Elements for Creating and Cultivating Passion – A Theory

Passion is a powerful thing. Leaders of both for-profit and non-profit organizations strive to find passionate individuals to associate with in order to fulfill their mission. For non-profits, this may be diehard volunteers willing to give a lion’s share of their free time to a cause. For-profit organizations may have passionate customers who eagerly act as an unpaid sales force as they enthusiastically share their excitement about a product or service with their peers. Regardless of the how your organization is structured, passionate supporters can result in more sustainable revenues, higher profit margins, and faster growth.

Non-profit development staff often rely on passion as a primary driver when soliciting gifts and recruiting volunteers. I have personally experienced how difficult it can be to try to create passion in others both from a traditional sales sense, as well as acting as an advocate from several non-profits. I once found myself in a position (unsuccessfully) trying to convince my peers that they should spend some of their free time mentoring at-risk teens in Northwest Ohio for an organization that I had grown to love.

In summer of 2011 the fulfillment from my new found passion of mentoring at-risk teens was quickly diluted by the harsh reality that the vast majority of people that I spoke with simply were not interested in getting involved. The individuals that I was talking to were good people, people that I looked up to; people that inspired me, and people that I know wanted to make a difference for their community. Why was it so difficult to get them to take action for something that would have such a positive on their community; and for them personally? Several fundraisers, many conversations, and equally as many failed attempts to recruit new volunteers left me feeling disappointed and defeated. Honestly, there was a point that I was even angry with the folks I had unsuccessfully tried to recruit.

After a bit of self-reflection I decided that it was not fair for me to be angry with the individuals that I spoke with. I was attempting to “sell” them on something that they simply were not passionate about, and there is nothing wrong with that. After all, I am certainly not passionate about every single cause the gets promoted to me, why should they be? I found that the disappointment and defeat I was feeling was actually a great opportunity to become a student of what it takes to motivate people for positive change.

“Whether you think you can, or you can’t – you’re right.” – Henry Ford

I began spending time talking to individuals about what motivated them, as well as what caused them to want to take action (donate, volunteer, change a habit, etc.) These lessons ultimately lead me to the conclusion that I was taking the wrong approach all along. The strategy should not be “I am passionate about this, and these are the reasons that you should be too.”, but more along the lines of, “What are you passionate about and how can I help you experience more of that?”

Even though this alternative approach was proving to be much more effective for people that already had an existing passion, it did not address the folks that did not have a clear conviction for what they are passionate about. In those cases it made sense for us to try to spark a passion flame within someone to get them start on a path what I call Intentional Philanthropy. Knowing that simply introducing a person to a cause or organization was not enough, I began to wonder what elements go into creating passion within a person. The following is a result of an afternoon brainstorming session on the topic….

Elements for Creating Passion

(Figure 1)

  • Clear Need/Demand – There must be a need in order for passion to exist. The need should not only be identified, but also quantified. The better we are at communicating the need, the more effective we will be at creating passion within an individual.
  • Sustainable Interest – An individual must have a sustainable interest in what we represent in order to create true passion. Interests that have no deep connection will be like a fad diet. It may have the potential to be very positive, yield great results, but does not hold an interest long term which leads to great short term results that eventually get lost in the shadow of a reversion to normalcy. We look at what elements create sustainable interest for an individual later in Figure 3.
  • Clear Plan to Implement Positive Change – It always easier to get people to do something if you first give them a plan to do it. The best plans are those that are both simple to execute and result in high impact/results. Plans that are highly impactful but not very simple may still prove to be useful and necessary; however plans that are very simple and not very impactful should be avoided.

Elements of an Ideal Strategy to Implement Positive Change

Elements that Create Sustainable Interest

(Figure 3)

  • Outside Influence – This is the category that I would place in the previously mentioned “These are the reasons you should be passionate about this cause” technique. While it can occasionally yield results, outside influence on its own is not enough to create a sustainable interest in a person, however it is almost always a necessary element for sustaining interests.
  • Personal Experiences – This is what I would consider the most powerful individual element for creating a sustainable interest. Personal experiences can mold a person’s belief system in a way that has a dramatic impact on their actions.
  • Personal Expertise – Developing an interest in something that we are already good at means that we will be able to contribute at a much higher level, and that getting involved will be much more natural for us than when experiencing something completely new.

Elements for Creating Passion

(Figure 4)

  • Communicate Vision – Some of the most effective leaders credit their success largely an ability to get “buy in” from those contributing to the organization’s success (employees, volunteers, etc.) The vision for any organization should articulate the why of what we are collectively working to achieve. An organization’s ability to cultivate passion will be determined by its capacity to find people that agree with, and are willing to align to, the organization’s vision.
  • Give Autonomy and Ownership – An individual’s maximum contribution to any organization will be limited to the opportunity that he/she has to succeed. Too often contributors (employees, volunteers, board members, etc.) limit their output to the process delegated by organizational leaders. Leaders that want to effectively cultivate passion need to be willing to be flexible (within reason) with their instructions on how their subordinates will use their role to contribute to the organizations vision. Freedom to explore new techniques, make mistakes, and think outside of existing policy and procedures are all good ingredients for innovation.
  • Show Progress – Individuals will only be a part of a losing team for so long. It is important that you communicate the individual and collective progress of organizational efforts. The progress that is being reported should align with the organizations vision and can be broken down to individual roles within an organization. The objective is that each contributor knows exactly how his/her role impacts the rest of team and contributes to the success of the organization.
Once passion is created within an individual it is important to understand the elements that keep the “passion flame” burning. Think about a relationship; what keeps passion sustainable over long periods may not be what started the flame in the first place. It is important to be mindful of the elements that are necessary for cultivating passion once it exists, Figure 4 considers those elements.


Matthew Moses
Matthew Moses

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