Not long ago, the world of baseball, the city of Chicago, and I lost the amazing Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, a few days short of his 84th birthday.
Ernie’s passing was a big loss for me personally, because he was my first sports hero. I grew up watching the Cubs on TV, listening to games on the radio, and on a few occasions, going to games at legendary Wrigley Field. When I was four or five, I met him signing baseballs at a local bowling alley. I actually reconnected with him on Facebook a few years ago, and he was nice enough to reply to the occasional messages I sent him.
Ernie Banks never played on a championship team or wore a World Series ring. The Cubs haven’t won a World series since 1908, and haven’t played in a World Series since 1945, eight years before Banks joined the team as the first African-American player for the team. Yet, he went out every day of the season and gave his all, becoming the league MVP for two years, even though the Cubs were in the cellar in fifth place. Even when the weather was cold and wet, he was overjoyed to be on the field. He couldn’t control how his teammates played or the how the competition played, but he always gave his best.
In my opinion, what made Ernie Banks a great man and hero for me wasn’t that he was just a talented athlete, but he truly loved the game he was paid to play. He worked hard to be an effective player on the field, but he also realized how blessed he was to do what he loved to do. He is quoted as saying, “What a great day for baseball. Let’s play two!”
This attitude should be the same for development professionals. We should love what we do and who we work for. This means we should love the organizations that employ us, the people the organizations serve, and the people who support them, the donors and volunteers. We should be waking up every morning and looking forward to meeting with donors, finding out why our donors support what our organizations do, and how we can help them do more. We should be talking to our constituents and hearing their stories so we can share them with others, and so we can discover what we can do to improve our services. We should be reading books, attending workshops, and participating in webinars to learn new ways to do things to make ourselves better at what we do.
If you look at your development job as simply a means to make a living, rather than as a passion for the mission, the mission’s stakeholders, and your supporters, you will find little joy and satisfaction in what you do, and will likely join the scores of other fundraisers who leave their organizations after a short time, on average between 18 to 24 months, the last I heard. If you don’t like calling, meeting, and talking to your supporters on a regular basis, you won’t be strengthening and retaining the relationships you need to build greater support for your cause. Just going to the office everyday and going through the motions will not make you a success and a hero.
Sure, you will have bad days when the economy is bad and the job is more difficult. You may have a donor who won’t take your call, or a coworker who is not doing what is expected of them, but you can still do your best because you love what you do. You might have an executive director that provides little support, or a board that doesn’t want to be involved in fundraising, but don’t let that get you down. Your passion may set an example for them.
Follow in the footsteps of Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, and you stand a greater chance of finding success for you and your nonprofit organization. Go in each day looking forward to the change you can make in a donor’s life by sharing your passion with them, and that will allow them to find their passion for making the world better for someone else.
To paraphrase Ernie, “It’s a great day for fundraising. Let’s play two.”