For many of us in development, taking to the road is a necessary and critical part of the job. We need to fly the friendly skies in order to identify and qualify donors, educate them on the needs of our organizations, and solicit them for transformational gifts. How often have we described a trip to a non-development friend only to have them exclaim, “Wait…what? You get to spend time in [insert name of beautiful location here] and go to [insert name of restaurant/company/building you’d likely never visit otherwise here]? You are sooooo lucky!” And the truth is, we are. We get to meet really interesting people, whose stories are complex and colorful, in a variety of locations.
But can we talk about how hard this work is? Road work takes us away from our loved ones, our pets, our workout schedules, and our fortresses of solitude where we decompress from life. Depending on where you’re traveling, you might be changing hotels and cities every night, driving ten-lane highways worried you won’t make your next meeting, or get to your hotel only to realize you forgot to pack pants. Any pants. Other than the leggings you wore on the plane. True story.
We spend our days constantly “on,” asking probing questions, actively listening while also making mental notes about key points to put in our contact reports later. The amount of energy it takes to recall the many nuances of the impactful work our organizations are conducting, and play matchmaker between a donor’s interests and potential funding opportunities, is exhausting. If you’re traveling with a senior leader or faculty member, oh my…that brings things to a whole new level. You’re the concierge, the coach, and, often, the caddy carrying all the event and donor materials. And don’t get me started on planning your trip. If you are lucky enough to have someone coordinating your travel logistics, I’ll be honest, I might dislike you just a teeny-tiny bit. For many of us, we not only need to make the calls and send the emails to get visits, we also have to book our own flights, hotels, rental cars, yada, yada, yada. Raise your hand if you’ve reached a hotel only to find out you didn’t actually book a room because you got distracted by a hard-to-pin-down donor calling mid-internet surf agreeing to a meeting and you were so excited you forgot to complete the reservation. *raises hand, looks around* No? Just me?
What we do is hard work. The days can be long, the visits so-so, and sometimes lunch is inhaling a burger in the McDonald’s parking lot between visits while you check voicemails, whimpering a little at the sight of 30 new emails in your inbox. But then it happens. You sit across from someone for the first time and feel the magic happen. They tell you a story about how your program changed their life, or the life of someone they love. Their eyes might get a little misty. You start connecting as people and not just development officer and prospect. Everything starts to click. Their interests and philanthropic goals align with the needs of your organization. You know this is going somewhere. On future trips you visit again, keeping in touch in between with emails and phone calls. A proposal is pulled together and presented. There’s a discussion on how to structure pledge payments. Then you receive the signed fund agreement. All of a sudden you could care less about the travel stress involved in getting to that point because you’ve helped someone make a difference. You haven’t taken someone’s money, you’ve helped give joy. That’s an amazing experience! It’s those moments that have kept me in this field for over 25 years. We are change agents of the best kind. Frankly, I can’t imagine a career doing anything else.
As I write this blog, I’m somewhere over the Midwest, coming back from six days in California. My week started on a Sunday afternoon with a flight to LA followed by a late night drive to Santa Barbara so I could make a breakfast meeting on Monday. On Tuesday a 2.5 hour afternoon introductory meeting was followed by a four hour drive to Orange County through LA’s rush hour so I could make another breakfast meeting on Wednesday morning. After that it was on to San Diego where I met up with my dean for a few days of donor visits. We capped off the week with an event, graciously hosted by a BU Law School alumnus, where my dean and one of our School of Social Work faculty members spoke about The Changing Landscape of Cannabis Use to a gathering of graduates from across the university.
All in all, I had a number of productive visits on varying levels, have a $1,000 check burning a hole in my pocket, and the event was a smashing success. It helped move our host closer to making a commitment to BU, and definitely resulted in leadership level prospect leads for the School of Social Work. My dean and faculty member are thrilled. I’m thrilled. But I’m also so. very. done. I can’t wait to get back to my fortress and decompress. Come Monday, I’ll be back at it. Executing the next steps in my contact report, strategizing with colleagues, and getting started on planning my next slate of donor visits. Have I mentioned I love my job? Because I truly do. We are so lucky to work in this field.