Wednesday, January 1, 2014

BIG’s Blog: I Never Work on the Last Day of the Year

I never work on the last day of the year, or on any of the other 364 days either.

I grew up in a small rural community in Kansas. For those of you that have only known east coast megalopolis or the west coast LA basin, or the myriad large cities in our country, there is no way I can explain it to you. Life is just simpler and fairly black and white. You learn at an early age in this culture to get up every day and start working.

My first “real job” was baling hay at the age of 11. To be fair-skinned on a clear summer day with the temperature hovering around the century mark as you walk through what seemed like endless fields of wheat stubble or cut alfalfa, picking up and tossing 60 to 80-pound bales onto the bed of a slow-moving trailer was the lot of rookie balers at the age of 11. One of your buddies (everybody that you work with in a small town is your buddy; the term co-worker was a foreign concept) rode on the trailer picking up the bails you had thrown and stacked them six to eight-high, depending on how smooth the field was. The lucky stiff (usually the oldest kid on the baling team, or the farmer himself if it was a small farm) drove the tractor that pulled the trailer.

But the work in the field was just a warm up … no pun intended … for the real work of putting up the bales in the barn. You remember the movies when you were a kid where the train robbers always pulled their bandanas up across the lower half of their face so as to be unrecognizable? Well, all cowboys and farm hands really wear bandanas to this day, and it’s not for robbing trains. You need bandanas pulled up over your nose and mouth when you are unloading the hay bails in the barn so you don’t get choked up with dust. Hay dust is thick in an enclosed barn with not a breath of air moving, and if you thought the temperature was hot in the field, you can only imagine how stifling it gets when the temperature in the barn approaches 115, with no air moving. Dust cakes to the sweat on your face, arms, and down your neck onto your back where it starts to itch like crazy. A real rookie can be spotted by wearing a short sleeve shirt to do this work; you only make that mistake once.

But I was fortunate. My farm-hand experiences taught me at an early age what real work was all about, and from that point on, I have never wanted to have anything to do with it. Lesson learned!

That is why for the next 50+ years I have always … with very few exceptions … done only what I wanted to do even though most people would say I was a hard worker. I would say I did what I enjoyed doing. Big difference!

So then, work is a state of mind. Of course it is how we earn the money that we need to pay our bills, but “work” is a choice. You can either wake up five days a week (or more) and have to force yourself out of bed in the morning or you can choose to do what you love to do.

Right now there are hundreds of people (probably thousands) who work in nonprofit fundraising and hate their jobs, whether the problems are a toxic work environment due to inept or no management, or co-workers constantly sowing discord or lack of direction by leadership or the board of directors. Either way, it leads to plummeting morale and dissatisfaction in the fundraising workplace.

I wouldn’t say it is endemic across the whole of the fundraising world since we work with fundraising organizations that are the exact polar opposite, but I would say it is prevalent in way too many fundraising organizations.


My sense is that the dividing line between highly-functional and successful fundraising groups and their opposite numbers comes down to leadership. But more than merely leadership, it is about leading with a vision of first, “what you want to accomplish” and then second, “laying out a plan (a roadmap) of how to get there” and finally, “sticking to the plan and measuring your progress along the way to your goal.”

If it cannot be measured, then it should not be done!

This is what separates the successful from what I refer to as the “functioning dysfunctional.”

Apparently the New Year is a time for many fundraising organizations to rearrange staff, add new staff, or create a new organization chart to better accomplish their fundraising goals. Insofar as it is driven by a real vision and plan … then great! But if it is just another attempt at “doing something” to right a failing plan, then it will be like a Jell-O mold. You know what a Jell-O mold is, don’t you? You mix Jell-O and pour it into a mold, refrigerate and what comes out is molded Jell-O. When you hit a Jell-O mold it shakes, just like some organizations announcing some kind of change or shakeup. But because the change or shakeup really isn’t driven by a vision or a plan, pretty soon – just like a Jell-O mold that has been whacked – it reverts back to exactly as it was before the shakeup. Nothing will have changed, except lost time.

No caring leader ever wants to intentionally be a part of that!

Here is a radical thought to start your new year. If you are the leader of an organization that has tried but failed to right the ship and your fundraising organization isn’t moving forward and, frankly, you really don’t look forward to going into work each morning, maybe rather than foist yet another slap to the Jell-O mold … announce your resignation.

Yes, resign! It really isn’t that novel; I’ve done it several times in my career. Quit wasting your life “working” at something that has obviously become unfulfilling to you. You’re clearly smart and talented, but for whatever reason right now your talents are not matching up to what is needed in your organization.

Life’s natural order is birth and death. Death is life’s way of regenerating itself. In your case I’m not talking about physical death, but rather emotional death. There is a reason why people say “my job feels like a ‘dead’ end.”

If you need to wait on a new successor or quickly groom someone from inside the organization to take your place, then announce you are leaving and get on with it!

Your best days are ahead of you!

But please, don’t hang on thinking YOU are irreplaceable. Listen, the cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable people.  

Quit “working” … go do something you love and are passionate about.

Not only make it a New Year, make it a Happy New Year!

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