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Have you ever had this happen to you?

You are raising money like crazy. You raise $100,000. You raise $200,000.

You raise $100,000 more with your event than the previous year.

You raise tens of thousands more with the appeal than has ever been raised.

You raise 200% more with grants than last year. You get 27 grant applications out the door in ONE MONTH. You do all of this.

Then your boss calls you in for a little talk.

You’re not doing a good enough job apparently. You neglected something. And it is cause for concern. A reprimand. Despite all of the good work you are doing as a fundraiser.

We’ve been conditioned to look for flaws, sure, but this is ri.goddamn.diculous.

Then you think to yourself, okay, well, maybe I should have asked in my job interview, is raising $120,000 for this program reasonable compared to what has been raised in previous years?

I mean, even if I raise $100,000, which is still much more than ever was raised, why is that not good enough?

Here’s the thing.

What your boss is asking you to do is get on the HEDONIC TREADMILL.

What is that?

It’s when you raise all of the money they asked for, and more, and they are still not satisfied, and you can’t rest, and then they say okay you raised your goal, now you have to raise more and more and more!


This HEDONIC Treadmill also happens to celebrities. They attain some degree of fame and get an award or a nomination for an award, get their first million dollar check, and they are not satisfied. What’s the next thing? The next goal?

I met a rich donor like this once. She wanted to tell me she had been to 90 countries in the world. I nodded politely. I asked her, “Have you been to Laos yet?” And she said, “No” and I said, “I have.” Then she looked at me like I was issuing her a challenge and said, “Well I’m going soon!” As if it were a race, to see who could get to all of the countries in the world. As if there were someone keeping score about this.

It strikes me as patently ridiculous that people would get on the hedonic treadmill, but we’ve probably all gotten on it at one time or another.

Imagine your aspirations as a 15 year old. Getting out of the house, having your own place. You’ve got that now. What’s next? You’re not satisfied, right? Right. You want a job. Okay, you’ve got a job. It doesn’t pay enough. Okay, you find a better job. Or now you want to work for yourself to get more money. And then you do. But that doesn’t have the same stability as a job. So…. you have freedom and money and your own place, but what’s next?

Well, you can always think of something else to want, to chase. And you know, contrary to popular Buddhist thought, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s nice to feel like you’re moving forward in the world.

However, where this HEDONIC TREADMILL really falls down is in our nonprofits. We make our goal, or just below it, and they set the bar even higher the next year, not giving us staff, or a database, or a bigger budget, or that other structural piece that we needed to actually make our lives easier.

So what I want to ask you is, can you step up to your boss?

Can you teach them about the hedonic treadmill?

Can you tell them to STEP OFF?

Can you do that?