People connecting with one another.

Do you ever feel isolated in your work? Do you ever wonder if you are the only one “this kind of thing” happens to? Or do you ever wonder whether what you’re doing is right?

As a major gift fundraiser and development professional, I know that you go through times of feeling isolated and alone. I know this because Richard and I get letters almost every day with a story from an MGO, Development Director or Executive Director who feels like he doesn’t have anyone to relate to.

Quite honestly, I think there is a pressure inherent to the work of major gifts that we have to do it all ourselves – that looking to others for help is some sort of weakness.

I know many of you feel this pressure because, when I’ve been in situations where development professionals come together, let down their guard, become vulnerable and start talking, amazing things seem to happen and everyone leaves saying the same thing:

“I wish we could meet like this on a regular basis.”

Perhaps you know that we are now in the middle of our first Major Gift Academy training. So far, it’s gone incredibly well. Besides all the great content and learning that is going on, one aspect that is so gratifying for Richard and me is the social connection of the Academy.

We created a private Facebook page just for participants, weekly live chats, and a one-to-one “buddy” system so that MGA participants from all over the world can come together to ask questions, make comments and learn from one another.

I’m seriously blown away by the great discussions that are happening. People are saving all kinds of time and avoiding headaches just by asking if anyone else has already gone through what they are experiencing now.  And because we’ve set a tone of being vulnerable, people are sharing what they are struggling with. Most of the time we find that when one development professional is struggling with something, others have already gone through the same thing and can provide wisdom.

If you’re feeling isolated – that you are the only one dealing with certain struggles related to your work and profession – I urge you to connect with your colleagues. It’s not easy, I know, but the reward is massive.

About a month ago I was reading in the Chronicle of Philanthropy about a group in the South that meets regularly to discuss all of their fundraising failures. Yep, they just sit together in a room (with their favorite beverage, of course) and one by one talk about something they tried or did, and failed. The quotes in the article from the attendees were illuminating to me. Basically, they all centered on the fact that, “I’m not stupid…” “Other people screw up…” and “I’ve learned a ton from making mistakes and hearing everyone share them.”

The real power of things like Major Gift Academy and these meetings I just spoke of is that people are coming together to share, learn and validate what they are doing. And they are starting to build community.

As a development professional, I really believe you won’t be AS successful as you could be if you don’t reach out and connect with others in your field. But YOU have to take that initiative.

Here are some quick tips to connect:

  1. Join a local AFP chapter. AFP is almost everywhere. Depending on where you live, you can probably join a chapter for $50-$200 and be invited to something almost every week. I’ve been to a few Philadelphia meetings, and they are great. But you have to go into it by thinking what you can bring to the group, not what you are going to take from it.
  2. Reach out to colleagues in a similar field. For example, if you work for an orchestra, seek out other development professionals in the arts in your community. I know for a fact that people are waiting for you to contact them. Get out there and grab coffee with three colleagues and have coffee. Share what each of you is doing, and see if there is a desire to meet regularly.
  3. Talk to your own colleagues at work. It’s amazing that this doesn’t happen very often, but it’s so easy for you to reach out to your fellow MGOs or other development co-workers to discuss the profession you share. I remember as a young account executive at a fundraising firm, I would take the creative folks to lunch so I could get their ideas on how to serve clients better. Counter-intuitive, I know, but they had better ideas on how to “wow” a customer than many of my fellow account people.
  4. Reach out to blog subscribers. I know one person who liked a particular blog, and she started reaching out to others who were commenting on the blog to ask if they could get together on the phone to chat about what they were doing with their work. Unconventional, yes… but it was highly effective for this person, and it could be for you.
  5. Conferences — Don’t just use your time going to seminars at a conference. Use the conference as a way to connect with as many people as possible. Many times conferences try to set up “networking opportunities,” but they usually don’t do the job well in my opinion. Get a list of all attendees, and reach out to folks before the conference saying you’d love to get together. I know a few people who spend most of their time this way when they attend a conference.

The big point of all this is that to be the best you can be, you have to reach out and give of yourself to others. You’ll be amazed at how others will reach out to you in return.

You shouldn’t have to feel isolated or alone in your work. But it has to be you that will take the initiative to reach out and connect with others.

Jeff

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