I spent the last year of my life helping people find their joy – in fact, it was part of my job description. Now, in the face of an unanticipated setback, the profound sense of joy I found in helping others is grounding me in gratitude in the face of tumult and change.
Throughout my career, I’ve worked on behalf of traditionally marginalized people and groups, whether as a volunteer for numerous food and shelter organizations or as a board member leading fund development effort for YWCA Greater Austin. But I’ve found that working to enable philanthropic giving as a MGO (Major Gifts Officer) for a disabilities non-profit has given me a sense of purpose and motivation that has superseded traditional metrics of job satisfaction. If you’re a disciple of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, fund development is clearly the “how” to my “why.” Philanthropy is the ideal and fund development is the fuel for philanthropic work.
At its root, philanthropy means “a love of humankind.” I saw this time and again in my work with a range of caring donors who aligned their values with their philanthropic giving. Having the opportunity to shine a light on the diversity, talents, and individuality of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities has been an honor.
Yet, I will not be able to continue this work – at least not with this particular organization. The once robust national development team was reduced by 40% as a result of a new strategic vision and post-covid realities. In other words, I’ve been riffed.
Despite the uncertainty and sadness this unanticipated change brings, I can’t help feeling an overwhelming sense of mission, gratitude, and, yes, joy. This sense of positivity has been enhanced by the wonderful words of thanks from colleagues, business partners, and donors for the work I have been privileged to do.
I am so grateful to know the impact I’ve made on this organization. And it has had just as much on me. These are some of the lessons I’ll be taking with me:
Relationships Above All
As an MGO, you are charged with identifying and building authentic and meaningful relationships with donors who have the capacity and the heart to give to your organization. I‘ll never forget feeling unsure and nervous before my first call with a major donor, afraid I would come across as too salesy. By the end of the call, I was elated. Because what we had was an easy and deeply satisfying conversation about a shared vision for a better future where all people deserve to be treated with dignity and care. The global pandemic had created so much isolation for all of us that I found most of my calls were often a welcome opportunity for connection and a sense of shared humanity.
I appropriate this wisdom from others, but it’s a good one for anyone in this field. Although I was a new MGO with limited development experience, I wrote my first proposal to a major donor within my first five months on the job. The ask? One million dollars to create ABA support services as a branded extension of a current behavioral supports service that had limited reach. Although this donor did not ultimately make the million-dollar gift, I believe that my bravery in making that request created a deeper connection to the org for him and a more meaningful relationship for me, which ultimately led to a major year-end gift.
Don’t Be Silo
At a non-profit organization, fundraising is not the sole responsibility of the development team. Everyone plays a critical role, beginning each day with that same sense of mission fulfillment that the MGO or other fundraising folks do. We are all stakeholders in the success of fundraising. No money. No mission. This mantra remains relevant for good reason. As fundraisers we are focused on external audiences – donors, foundations, partners – we also need to build relationships across all levels and functions of the org, especially on the program delivery side. In my case, to understand the operational side of the business, I had to know the employees providing the services – the front-line service workers, or in our case, the DSP (Direct Service People). Working with them, learning from them, and understanding their world was integral to my ability to successfully tell the “Why we exist” and “How we change lives” part of our story.
Change is Constant
I love my family, but my daily runs while listening to audiobooks became the needed break from 24/7 family time during this pandemic. In a normal year, I go through two pairs of running shoes with a half marathon every January. Covid year and no group runs or races? I cycled through six pairs of running shoes. I have over 30 books in my Audiobooks library. I have listened to them all. Some more than once. In my current listen, Great By Choice, by Jim Collins of Good To Great fame, Collins posits that chaos and uncertainty are the conditions in which we live rather than aberrations to the norm. They are the norm. In my own varied career, this aligns with my personal journey, starting in retail at Nordstrom headquarters in Seattle, WA as a newly minted college graduate, to the heady start-up days in San Francisco in the late 90’s as a single person to an executive position at Williams-Sonoma Inc., married with children. Today, I’m living in Austin, TX having made the transition from corporate PR and marketing to the non-profit world as a fund development professional against the backdrop of a global pandemic. I feel confident that my ability to adopt to and anticipate change has been the key to my enduring and always challenging career opportunities.
As my last day passed on this first non-profit job in development, I am uncertain what the next opportunity will look like. What I do know is that my vision and my values remain intact, more so now than ever. I will find that next right fit non-profit organization whose mission aligns with my values. I can’t wait to be a part of helping to drive the engine that enables their philanthropic vision to become realized.
Spreading joy and receiving joy in the name of working toward a world that reflects our shared love of humankind? Yes, please.