“I actually can’t stand the idea of fundraising or development but watching you get so excited about it and the way you explain it to me, and I’m like – oh, I get it – and it’s exciting.”
This is a direct quote from one of my co-workers, Greg, at my service site last year. Sitting in a park dedicated to Christopher Columbus, eating Chicago famous $3 Italian shaved ice (#stipendlife), we were ironically talking about how you ask for something you want … in a nonprofit setting of course!
Development is exciting. For some. Ok, maybe only those who work in development. Ok, maybe just me.
Mistakenly most people assume that my role serving as a development associate revolves around money – raising it, spending it, and then raising some more. And to be fair, from the outside, that’s what a development office looks like. In the nonprofit world, the development (or advancement) office is the lifeline that pays salaries, keeps the lights on and water running; it’s the backbone of whatever great work it is that an organization is doing. If the mission of an organization is the heart, development is the bloodline – pointless by itself but essential in overall function.
To me, development is all about connecting people and resources to organizations and needs. To develop means to grow, and the same way that a plant requires sun, soil and water, a nonprofit requires time, talent and funds; money playing a smaller role in a much larger picture.
I do spend a large chunk of my day searching for money, writing grants, planning fundraisers, and thanking donors. At the end of the day, the question I always ask myself is what makes people give? Tax credit and social praise certainly exist, but when I think about the donors I get to work with there seems to be something else. I think the answer as to why people give is similar as to why people become Lasallian Volunteers?
In the same way that someone would donate $5,000 to a school, you could say an LV is providing a $40,000+ “donation” (proposing starting salary of $40,000 for a full-time position, skipping benefits, taxes, etc.) to the organizations where we serve. But no one would talk about it like this. Sure, it is a donation of time, talent, and some resources but the real reason Lasallian Volunteers “donated” is because they felt called and connected to a mission, to an idea, to the thrill of contributing to something beyond themselves, to a person or group of people. And that is priceless. That is development.
Connecting people’s interests and desires in tangible, direct ways to those that need them. Everyone has something that matters to them. A cause, a story, a life experience that changed them, and when you match that to an organization that does just that – BOOM – you have a match of resources and passion.
Money is not everything, in fact, it’s hardly anything … but a social construction of a physical demonstration of value. Time, connections, skills and people are what contribute to a mission. The family that gives $50 a month is just a valuable as the woman who introduced us to 10 of her friends or the retired teacher who donates two boxes of books. Even De La Salle, I would argue, was a donor. By donating his wealth, social status, clerical background and network, he produced and gave life to a mission that still resonates with millions 300 years later.
The Lasallian phrase “together and by association” I believe applies to our donors. The goal of development is to have engaged donors, people who believe in the mission far more than their desire just to give money to it. Inviting donors to be a part of the Lasallian mission means that they too have a stake in the work. And working in development means that it’s my job to make sure that donors get to see the impact their gifts have and to invite them to move their stake further into the mission. In the same way that the those who serve must learn how to receive, those who give must be asked to participate.
The hardest part of my job is simply finding the people, the grants and the foundation, not asking for money. When you animate a mission, it does all the talking (and asking for you).
My fellow LVs, we are still developing! Becoming animated aspects of the Lasallian mission whether it is in a classroom, leading a retreat, or writing a grant. Let your service do the talking and have someone in development do the asking ?.
Emily Redfern is a second-year LV serving at San Miguel School in Chicago, Illinois. She is a 2017 graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California.