As fundraising professionals, it’s part of our daily work to find and build connections on so many levels. Today’s article by HBG Senior Consultant Mandi Matz takes us link by link along the precious chain of connection building and reminds us how important – and what a gift – they are in our lives. ~Helen
My first job in prospect research was at a cancer center in Southern California, where I live. I worked there for six mostly happy years. It was a great place to start my career. I had a wonderful boss and colleagues from whom I learned so much. I left there more than a decade ago, and most of my colleagues from that time also have moved on, so, while I have fond memories, I don’t think about that institution much.
A few months ago, that institution received a $100 million gift from the foundation of a prominent local family who started a popular national restaurant chain. When I read about the gift in the newspaper, I thought: “Wow! Amazing.” Then I went on about my day. I didn’t connect myself or anyone I had worked with there to the gift. At least not yet.
A few days later, one of my former colleagues from that institution called me out of the blue. Although we haven’t worked together for many years and she has long lived in another state, we’ve remained friends, usually chatting by phone once or twice a year. It had been a while, so I was delighted to see her name pop up on my phone as the incoming call. She wanted to discuss the gift, of course, but also mentioned that our former boss – who had long since left the institution – had posted on social media about it, which she thought I should see.
My friend said that in the post, our former boss used the gift as an opportunity to acknowledge another former colleague: the gift officer who started the relationship with this philanthropic couple, probably at least 20 years ago. This gift officer was a kind, caring woman who was a perfect fit for her job. She had a big personality and a bigger heart. Sadly, she passed away almost ten years ago. As my friend and I were chatting, it made me happy to remember her, especially with someone else who worked with her and knew her well. After that phone call, I found myself thinking about her – and smiling – for the rest of the day.
Later that night, I read my former boss’ post. My friend recommended that I have some tissues at the ready. She was right. He wrote a lovely and fitting tribute. But I was equally moved by the comments, many of which were from other colleagues who now worked at other places. It was wonderful to see their names and read their words – all of us remembering someone special gone too young and too soon.
I thought about this experience for several days afterward. It happened by such an interesting chain of events. And it made me think about the bigger picture of our jobs – something that I, like most of us, probably don’t always consider in the course of my day-to-day work.
As prospect researchers, we are always looking for connections. We map the relationships of our prospects and potential prospects to link people who may help the organizations for whom we work. We connect constituents and clarify relationships in the CRMs we use. As professionals, we network to try to advance our careers. We find the links in the chain.
Then I thought about my own chain – and all the links and important relationships I’ve been fortunate to add during my career.
First, there is my former boss. He took a big chance by hiring me. Although I had a relevant background, I had never worked for a nonprofit or in development. I didn’t even know that prospect research was a “thing” when I applied for and later accepted the job. I also was moving from another state to take it. By hiring me, he showed his confidence in me and that gave me confidence in myself. During the time I worked for him, he was never anything but supportive, kind and understanding. Many years later, I became a manager during my own career. I’m so lucky I had him as a role model on which to pattern my behavior and approach to being a boss. Looking back on it now, I realize he set me on a career path, and it changed my life. He’s a very important link in my personal chain.
Then, there’s my colleague who called me to tell me about our boss’ post. She was responsible for most of my training at that first job, so I owe a lot of my career development and success to her. But I got lucky. We became fast colleagues and even faster friends. We clicked right away. Way back when, I was, not surprisingly, nervous about taking a new job in a field that was brand new to me, not to mention moving away from my family to do it. But I remember the first time I met her. I immediately thought to myself: “Oh yeah. This is going to work out.” Another strong link.
The next link in my chain is that wonderful gift officer. What a unique light she was in the world. I’m so glad my former boss thought to give her credit for the role she played in working with that couple. She deserves it. What is it they say about giving? A gift to an institution is an acknowledgement of everyone who works – or in this case, worked – there.
Then, there were all the people – some of whom I know personally and others whom I don’t – who commented on the post. Many other links. It made me remember that our profession is full of truly good people. Kind, caring, compassionate, empathetic, smart and curious people. No one can help everyone, but everyone can help someone. Our profession is indeed a helping profession. We may not always think of it in these terms, but our work contributes to the cultural, social, educational, medical and other institutions that mean so much to our society.
Finally, there are all the links in the chain that had to connect for a monumental gift like that to occur. When we were chatting on the phone, my friend and I joked that we must’ve researched that couple and their foundation, as did all of colleagues on the research team back in the day. Reflecting on it further, I realized it was true. It was a nice reminder that to make a gift like that happen, it takes a long time, a lot of work and many, many people, who contribute in ways large and small. No gift, especially one of that size, happens in a vacuum.
As we approach the beginning of another holiday season, perhaps this post will encourage you to reflect on how lucky we are to do what we do. Each of our chains has unique links, connections and relationships that are meaningful to us professionally and personally. My recent experience taught me how valuable it is to remember and acknowledge them.