On an island.

"It's so good to talk to you. Sometimes I feel like I'm on an island."

Yesterday I spent several hours over Diet Coke and coffee working with a super-bright young development professional. She's about six months into a new position, raising funds stateside for an out-of-country mission. She's dedicated, committed, passionate, and knowledgable about the country and the work she's serving. She speaks the language, has lived and traveled in the country, and has a mature, well-informed, ethical approach to international development. I think she's great.

And she's just a tiny bit discouraged.

Because the money isn't rolling in. She's lucky that she works for pretty realistic leaders that know it all takes time (and cared enough to make certain she has a mentor)-- but she's also aware that the organization is stretching to cover her salary and she feels great personal pressure to show results. Because that's the kind of people we hire into these positions, when we're lucky.

She's had some good development experience, but in larger shops where there was a healthy resource budget and where she had colleagues and where she wasn't alone with the work every day. 

She had a whole list of particular questions about how to approach people for the first time, and who, exactly, she should be approaching, how to manage her database, how to engage with board members more effectively, how to use her own connections appropriately, how to deal with volunteer-driven events. She came to our meeting so well prepared. And we talked through all these things. She was a sponge - an enthusiastic, appreciative, and delightful sponge. It's my favorite kind of work.

But what she needed most was affirmation and encouragement.

  • A reminder that nobody swoops in and saves the day overnight when it comes to fundraising.
  • Strong assurance that her instincts are right.
  • Confidence that challenging board members/volunteers/potential donors are par for the course, not a personal statement. And that lovely board members who don't work are the same. And that those gems that are lovely and DO work are to be treasured, nurtured, and sought out for chats regularly.
  • A charge to set goals that aren't all monetized. Contacts, conversations, personal notes, timely follow up -- even if you can't put a $$ to the activity, believing that this is progress and giving herself credit for this, every day.

And perhaps the greatest challenge for her is to find a group, even if it's a tiny group, of others doing similar work with whom she can connect so she doesn't feel so alone with her successes, challenges, misgivings, doubt, and, on the good days, the sheer joy of having this kind of a job. She needs to be able to tell people about all those things. It's easy for any of us to stay on our own island and wait for someone to come to us, to invite us, to engage us, to help us. Probably within our own sight lines are others, like us, working on an island. (Make no mistake, people can feel like they are on an island when they work for large organizations. It's not just the one-person office that can feel lonely.) And they are waiting, too.

I'm thinking her area would be a great place to form a Development Cohort and see what kind of productive, encouraging relationships we can build. And as awesome as that would be, I want her to know, like all of us should know, that she can certainly build her own support group, any time, anywhere, but she may have to step off the island and make the first move. 



Joan Brown