Thursday, February 7, 2008

Work Can Be A Privilege

For all Stella's complaining about cruddy data management practices and confusing communication problems on the job, there are many, many parts of the job that are truly wonderful. In fund raising, you spend a lot of time trying to sit down with people, and when you're starting out with an organization, like I am, most of the people you contact say no. They know when they get a call from someone in the development office that eventually someone is going to slip their wallets out of their pockets. A lot of people feel uncomfortable with this idea.

But the really great thing is that the people who say yes and agree to meet with you are a self-selecting group that is predisposed to liking what you have to say about the organization. They say yes because they want to connect with the place, or maybe because they understand how the philanthropy thing works and want to see if your joint would be a good place to lay some dough, or maybe because they really have a love of your institution.

Whatever their motivation, it works. If you can get in the door, you're halfway home. You'll probably have a complaint portion of the meeting (particularly if you're working cold, hard prospects like I am), but once you get through the airing of grievances you can tap into the reasons why they agreed to see you in the first place. And it's because they like you(r institution).

This week I've really seen this in action. I had a chance to sit down with some of the first people to ever pass through our doors, and they were so delightful, so thoughtful, and clearly so happy to be asked to help us. Years ago, a VP gave every staff member who had been involved in a major campaign a little plaque as a thank you. At the time, I was working back office operations, and thought it was strange, but now I really get the quote:
While the work of going from door to door and from office to office is hard, disagreeable, and costly in bodily strength, yet it has some compensations. Such work gives one a rare opportunity to study human nature. It also has its compensations in giving one an opportunity to meet some of the best people in the world -- to be more correct, I think I should say THE BEST people in the world. When one takes a broad survey of the country, he will find the most useful and influential people in it are those who take the deepr interest in institutions that exist for the purpose of making the world better.

-- Booker T. Washington

I know what you're thinking: she's drinking the Kool-Aid. This may be true, but sometimes it's hard to remain cynical in the face of a group of people who really have served humanity through their careers, and who are so willing to work with you to advance your institution's goals, too. It's pretty cool.

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