It’s Time To Get Your RAS In Gear!

September 3, 2014

Guest Blog by Steve Haddad, Principal, Sangha Solutions, Associate Member of Maryland Nonprofits

Become a successful grantseeker, join Steve on Thursday, September 11th for the Webinar: Making the Fearless Ask – The Psychology of Fundraising

Read the original blog here.

If you work or volunteer for a nonprofit, you know that fundraising can feel challenging at times – even downright impossible. But raising money is even tougher when our own minds are secretly plotting against our success.

You’ve probably heard about the “power of positivity” or the law of attraction at some point in your life. Maybe you dismissed the idea because it felt disingenuous or like some kind of magical wishful thinking potion. But what if I told you that the ability to be a successful fundraiser is partially rooted in your brain’s neural pathways? And what if I also said that you have the ability to shape these pathways through your actions?

The reticular activating system, or “RAS,” is a bundle of connected nerves at the base of our brain that regulates a number of core functions, including arousal and sleep-wake transitions. The most important function of the RAS, however – at least for the purpose of our discussion – is that it serves as an active filter between our conscious and subconscious mind. Our subconscious mind is paying attention to what’s happening around us all the time and absorbing millions of bits of data every second, but only an infinitesimally small percentage of this information ever makes it to our conscious mind. The RAS’s job is to actively direct certain information – positive or negative – from the subconscious to the conscious.

Think about it this way: let’s say that you’re ready to buy a new car, and you’ve done a lot of research to help with your decision. You’re interested in a Toyota Corolla, and you’ve made an appointment with the dealership at the end of the week to take a test drive.  In the meantime, though, you’re still wheeling around in your old car, and during your long weekday commute you suddenly notice that you’re seeing Corollas everywhere!  Are there actually more Corollas on the road today than a few days ago?  Of course not!  But the reticular activating system has relayed a message to your conscious mind to pay attention to Corollas, so you are now more aware of what previously was only being seen – and ignored – by the subconscious mind. Make sense?

The significance of this phenomenon is the realization that we can intentionally set the RAS to focus on the things that are important to us while simultaneously avoiding wasting time and energy on thoughts and actions that do not serve us well. Of course, we can’t change what’s actually happening, but we can deliberatively begin to create our own experiences by paying attention to opportunities instead of being lost in distractions or negative thought patterns.

If you’re a fundraiser and want to be more successful, it’s time to get your RAS in gear!  Here are a few important habits you can start to cultivate today:

1)    Write down your weekly goals: It’s easy to get distracted by the “urgent but not important” tasks that bog us down every day.  Make a list of a few specific goals for the week – maybe it’s to connect with donors to share the impact their gifts have made, or perhaps it’s to celebrate a big fundraising “win” by a Board member.  Look at your goals each day and make sure your actions are aligned with your intentions and your integrity.

2)    Start each day by tuning into something inspiring: Whether it’s a quote, a mantra, a TED talk, a podcast, or a favorite fundraising blog, you can choose to begin every morning with a reminder of what’s important to you, instead of immediately sifting through your Twitter feed or checking Emails.  You’ll be amazed at how this habit energizes your daily work routine!

3)    Incorporate visualization into your fundraising meetings: Before you sit down with that major donor or prospect, spend a few minutes mindfully visualizing how you want the meeting to go.  Remember that the outcome of the meeting isn’t always what’s most important, but instead how you listen, how you can help meet this person’s deepest needs, and how to express passion for your nonprofit’s cause.

The more we pay attention to our thoughts, the more we find that opportunities seem to unfold in front of us.

Join Maryland Nonprofits’ 2014 Annual Conference “Connecting for Impact!” November 5th at the Universities of Shady Grove in Rockville, MD. 



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