By Jonathan Feldstein
I was traveling for work in the U.S. during the week of the World Series. In a previous life I’d have been completely engaged in the final weeks of the regular season and the playoffs, but living in Israel more than a decade not only did I not follow that, but I couldn’t even name a player on either team playing. This is especially noteworthy because in the day when I followed baseball religiously I was a Mets fan and knew the whole lineup and their stats by heart.
Since the Mets were playing, I couldn’t help but watch some of the games, particularly what turned out to be the last game where the Royals won.
It felt like the old days when – with exceptions that can be counted on one hand – die hard Mets fans went from one disappointing season to another. I watched the Mets let an eighth inning 2-0 lead slip, to a tie in the ninth, and then a 7-2 loss. Their demeanor went from excitement at being on the verge of a win and forcing game six, to one of disparagement. It seemed that they knew and were resolved to the fact that they were going to lose, or at least that they knew they had a big hole to dig out of and the odds were not on their side.
Parallel to this, I was taken by the Royals’ infectious elation going from glee to euphoria. Their celebration was deserved and predictable, but natural and spontaneous all the same. A lot was at stake including the title and lots of money, but at the base level this was a simple celebration of a bunch of colleagues working together as a team and celebrating their success.
I was reminded of this recently when speaking to a colleague who raises money for another Israel oriented nonprofit. For dozens of friends and countless other nonprofit colleagues, as the calendar year winds down and we rush to close outstanding donations, we are figuratively in the eighth inning of the big game. There are some big differences of course.
The money at stake is not a sizable personal bonus, but that which pays for the numerous social and humanitarian services that we make happen, often behind the scenes, while money we raise is spent to help others.
Some of us will have wild successes. Some of us will perform averagely, which is a success in and of itself that allow nonprofits to stay afloat and provide their basic services. Some of us will fall short of goal which is a personal loss as it may inhibit the provision of essential services.
In baseball and all team sports, winners and losers are a product of the sum of the team’s efforts. While that’s true in fund raising to a degree as well, more often than not our success is measured by the product of our individual actions. Certainly that’s the case for our compensation where teamwork is noted far too little if at all.
Some of our successes and shortcomings are directly due to our actions, and some are due to activities beyond our control. But in baseball, the Royals and Mets made it to the World Series after a full season of wins and losses, where every hit, RBI, home run, or conversely each strike out and double play, counted to enable them to play against one another. Each hit and run scored leading to individual wins made the end result possible. Each is invaluable.
The same is true in fund raising. Regardless of how we end our respective “seasons” next month, we reach these year end results as the sum of every individual donation, whether $5, $50, $500, or $5 million. These are our base hits, stolen bases, RBIs, and home runs. Then there’s the occasional grand slam too. These get us to the foundation where we are today, on the verge of ending the season. But no matter if we are short of our goals or are way ahead, the next weeks are full of pressure not to leave any runners on base. We are sprinting in the last stretch of a yearlong race.
There are two other big differences between baseball’s winning team and even the most successful fund raising campaign. First, we don’t have an off season. One new campaign begins as another ends.
Another difference is how we celebrate our achievements. I’ve worked for several nonprofits and had lots of successes. But I’ve never celebrated these successes the way the Royals celebrated euphorically. Not even close. Far too often our successes are met with a figurative pat on the back and a charge to go raise more money. Of course the ultimate success is measured by the provision of services that save lives, educate, provide counseling, feed, offer religious services, etc.
I’m ok with all that as are most of my colleagues. We don’t do it for glory or product endorsements, and we know that we are not getting rich raising money for others. It’s part of the nature of the culture and the demand on us as fund raisers.
But it was the words of my friend and colleague who was venting a bit, and expressing some of the pressure and burnout that comes with this season that struck me the most. Paraphrasing, what was most glaring was the lack of celebrating successes and recognition of these. There must be exceptions where colleagues are celebrated and recognized but they are just that, exceptions.
With Giving Tuesday a week away I want to tell my colleagues in the trenches that even if your organization does not celebrate your wins, you can and should. Take a moment to reflect upon or go see where the money goes and how these services could not take place without you. Give yourself an #ATTABOY! and stay motivated and focused.
Take time to share with your spouse, friends, and even kids why you’re proud of doing what you do. Feel free to write to me as well, email@example.com, to share successes, or vent frustrations as my friend did.
And to our donors, as we chase you down in person, by phone, by mail or electronically, please don’t make it harder than necessary. Please give generously. If you’re giving to a meaningful cause we represent because you care about what we do, when we thank you, you can share in our celebration of successes by thanking us as well for helping to make this possible. We are a team and should celebrate together.
It may not be the same as the euphoric embrace by the pitcher and catcher of the winning team, yet it’s still meaningful and appreciated. Most of us will continue to do what we do with or without the thanks or some sort of recognition or celebration. But it doesn’t hurt either.
Jonathan Feldstein is a veteran Jewish communal and fund raising professional living in Israel where he celebrates his successes. He has been responsible for numerous innovative marketing and fund raising campaigns related to Soviet Jewry, supporting American Jewish troops in Iraq, bringing tourists to donate blood in Israel, and being a bridge between Israel and the Jewish community and pro-Israel Christians. He writes for the evangelical Charisma web site and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.