Understanding motivators

Chinese lanterns. Change is the only constant

Motivations behind those working in the charity sector are potentially more complex than those driving people working in commercial sectors, and we should always bear this in mind. It has implications for the way in which people should be recruited, managed, cared for and developed.

By this I don’t just mean the cliched “job motivators”, that you might talk about in an interview but the real, underlying, core and sometimes very personal reasons that we do the things we do.

There is a huge difference if we think about motivators in these two ways. Let’s take a look. Let’s start with what you might say in a job interview or a promotion interview, when the interviewer asks “What motivates you to want to work here?”. The likely response from most candidates will be something fairly stock … like these perhaps:

  • I enjoy meeting deadlines, targets or goals like these
  • I want to mentor and coach others
  • I love learning new things
  • I get a buzz from coming up with creative ideas to improve something, or make something new
  • analysing complex data in order to draw clear and simple conclusions is very satisfying to me
  • working well as part of a team like yours is very appealing
  • It’s always gratifying completing a difficult project, and seeing it through to the end
  • I’m motivated by finding ways to solve problems, or overcome challenges

All very good answers and all very valid in the right context, however they don’t get to the root of what really drives someone, consciously or unconsciously. It is these real motivators that make us who and what we are, and make us stick at something. Amongst this list I’d include …

  • money
  • status
  • altruism
  • positioning
  • peers
  • causes
  • beliefs
  • relationships
  • family
  • self-development
  • experimentation

All of these things – and probably many more that I haven’t thought of as I sit writing this – are also perfectly valid. They are also all perfectly acceptable (even the money one, and even when working for a charity!).

I believe that for most people, there is a basket of these personal motivators in varying proportions – perhaps even defining our personalities.

Further reading on this you could do a lot worse than thinking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, for example at www.simplypsychology.org.

If you are looking for a competent employee, then certainly stated “interview” motivators are important. But if you are looking to nurture, retain, get the best from, and enjoy working with a team of genuinely committed people, then understanding the underlying drivers is even more¬†important.

A truly skilled interviewer will be able to get to these, assisted perhaps by the various personality analysis tools out there, and by reading and listening to personal statements with the question “what is motivating this person” in mind.

Food for thought!


This article was originally published by CITOC in 2019, and revised and updated October 2023