The Relevancy of being a Passionholic

In June of 2013, I did a TEDx talk about the combination of principles and passion in one’s philanthropy. It was titled “The Evolution of a Passionholic.” The word “workaholic” didn’t seem to be the best description of someone who is fully engaged, so I coined the word “passionholic.”


Is being a passionholic still relevant? Does passion drive tenacity, patience, determination, persistence, and pursuit of one’s goals?  

When asked, business leaders such as Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, and Pat Mitchell have answered, to paraphrase, “Absolutely yes.”  Politicians and global leaders have had a similar response.  In the world of nonprofits, having passion for the cause is especially vital.  The opportunity to match head and heart, to use your skill set for a cause in which you believe, and to be part of a team whose culture shares that mission speaks to the need of having passion for what you do. I have yet to meet anyone in the nonprofit world who works in that sector for the paycheck.

For most nonprofit leaders, the idea of doing something else is unimaginable.  Passion for the cause is so deep that it seems to be in their DNA. Geoffrey Canada, the tireless and passionate leader of The Harlem Children’s Zonereferred to his work as a “love affair.” Eve Ensler created a global movement to end violence against women and girls, V-Day, after listening to hundreds of women who waited at the stage door after each performance of “The Vagina Monologues” to tell her their personal stories as survivors of sexual violence.  Many nonprofits began with the seeds of passion, purpose, and vision.  Without the manna of passion and purpose, it would be hard to maintain the resilience needed as the work is tireless, often heartbreaking, and results can be slow in coming.

What if the question is not how you spend your day but how you spend your philanthropic dollars?  Do you still need passion?  I would still answer “yes” and add, “if you want to feel aligned with your giving.” In interviews with philanthropists, many speak of passion as their strong feeling for an issue, sector, organization, and cause.  This motivation advances your interest andcompels you to contribute in a meaningful way.

I call it your personal Venn diagram for your philanthropic pursuits

The intersection of your passion, your values and principles, and your knowledge and learning is your sweet spot for meaningful engagement.

Take the opportunity to ask yourself the following: 

  • What are my core values and principles?
  • What areas (cause, sector, organization, issue) do I have passion for and how do they match with my core values and principles?
  • How much time, treasure, and talent do I want to devote to my philanthropic interests?
  • What knowledge/beliefs do I have internally and what data and information do I need to find to help me make an informed decision?

This exercise brings forth information that is uniquely yours.  And the beauty is that there is no right or wrong answer; the answer is your answer.  

Peter Karoff, founder of The Philanthropic Initiative writes, “The alignment of one’s passion to one’s giving is often elusive, but worth the search. “The reward is that your gift giving becomes the best possible articulation of your core values and belief systems and at the same time becomes a direct link to those issues within community and society that you deem to be of greatest significance. The payoff is in the immense personal satisfaction that comes when your generosity is grounded in what you feel is the most important.”