Recently I attended a delightful family reunion replete with four generations. Of course it included the requisite assortment of birthday recognitions and “who-traveled-the-farthest” bragging rights, accompanied by several quiet conversations with various relatives about how quickly time passes. Part of what makes reunions like this so meaningful is observing the naturally occurring, changing roles of each person relative to the clan. Always remembered as a child, someone is now a parent. Or once a parent, suddenly someone is a grandparent or dependent elder. Or someone who was once close family friend is now a daughter- or son-in-law.
It’s appropriate to consider the value that comes from these changing perspectives.
In my career as a development professional, I’ve come to value spending a part of it on both sides of the table, so to speak. As both a gift officer and a donor, as a grant development professional and a grant decision-maker, as a consultant to non-profits and as a board member, my career is a flow from one side of the “table” to another. I have to admit that I didn’t start out planning my career this way. But over time, I came to value deliberately programming this “both-sides” view into my career. It has considerably enriched my perspective and skills as a development professional.
As decades have passed, I find I am increasingly in a role of mentoring “newly minted” development professionals, those who are new to the industry or individuals who are contemplating a shift in their careers from the for-profit to the non-profit sector. One bit of advice I mete out regularly now, is that whenever possible, I suggest they pursue opportunities to work “both sides of the table.”
Are you a grants professional? Volunteer to serve as a proposal reviewer for a federal grant program or local foundation. Are you interested in moving from marketing to development? Learn what it’s like to give. Spend time giving to and participating in an organization with a mission you are passionate about and observe how the organization acknowledges your time, talent and treasures. Consider how you feel about that. Are you interested in becoming an individual giving or major giving officer? Join a non-profit board and practice making a personal, stretch gift to the organization, and make note of all the dimensions of that experience.
No matter how big your own family tree, inevitably, roles shift with time. Whether good or bad, insignificant or major, each shift in role shapes your perspective of your family, yourself and the others on the family tree.
Whatever your development “family”, consider how to pass on what you’ve learned from the naturally occurring or planned shifts in your career. Help others in our profession realize it’s possible and probably helpful to pull up a chair on both sides of the table.