What is Your Purpose

My sister sent me an article from the New York Times  that talks about how a sense of purpose helps to sustain people in old age. I think a sense of purpose helps to sustain us no matter what our age. It is one of the values nonprofits give to our volunteers and our donors. Paula Span, the author of the article, notes that purpose in life has a “potent ability to improve and extend lives.”

My sister, in her email where she sent the article, made the distinction between keeping busy and having a passion. Being busy, she wrote, just fills time. When you are passionate about something you feel engaged and energized. As Patricia Boyle, a neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, notes that people “want to make a contribution. They want to feel part of something that extends beyond themselves.”

So when you start to feel that perhaps you are demanding too much of your volunteers; asking your donors too often to contribute, realize that in a very real way, you are providing them with purpose.

I don’t want to sound glib. Recently, I’ve been talking with prospective major donors of an organization that hasn’t done a very good job of fundraising…ever. These prospects talked about their frustration with the organization. To a person, the frustration focused on the fact that the organization did not allow them to be a part of something they valued. In other words, they were kept from having a purpose that mattered to them.

When I asked these prospects what they needed from the organization to get more involved and to, frankly, make significant financial gifts, they said simply, “Ask me. Tell me how my gift will matter. And then—at a later date—tell me how it mattered.”

In other words, give them an opportunity to make the contribution that Dr. Boyle spoke about. And most importantly, help them to feel that are a part of something that is greater than themselves. A part of something that matters and, yes, gives purpose to our lives.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity, build stronger and more engaged boards—and bring purpose to others’ lives. Learn how she can help you and your organization at www.janetlevineconsultng.com or by emailing her directly at janet@janetlevineconsulting.com.