I’m aware that I’m a very specific person. I’m definitely me, as I’ve blogged before. I never worry that people who’ve met me at a professional gathering, might days later come across my business card or receive an email from me and find themselves wracking their brains, trying to remember which one I was. I’m okay with knowing my style makes me memorable, whatever that means.
But I’m also surprisingly comfortable knowing that as specific a person as I am, being a generalist, professionally speaking, is an enormous asset — for all of us who work as fundraising professionals.
Since my career began at The Carter Center in Atlanta, helping Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter realize their global health initiatives, I’ve enjoyed deeply rewarding engagements across human services and iconic cultural non-profits, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and The Joffrey Ballet.
At The Carter Center, for example, I became a quasi-expert in Onchocerciasis, commonly known as River Blindness, to help raise tens of millions of dollars to eradicate that disease in the developing world. In a subsequent post, many of the LACMA donors I worked with spoke the language of cutting edge contemporary art, requiring that I develop a degree of fluency in collecting and interpreting the latest in creative expression. From one type of non-profit service to another, and now, back again; today I find myself working with the world-famous Doheny Eye Institute in Los Angeles to form a new strategic partnership with UCLA.
I appreciate that the diversity of engagements I’ve had rely on my not-narrow background.
Last month, I was honored to accept an award from my alma mater, Washington University in Saint Louis, for my service as a distinguished young alum. As I paused to prepare some remarks for the evening, I reflected on how I got here, from there.
From the beginning, I knew my career in law would probably take a non-traditional path. I am grateful that thanks to my legal studies, I know tax law and how it works so I can advise on complex gift transactions. But I also draw on the too often under-celebrated law school fundamentals: the art of negotiation and the deal, and the ideals that justice, equity and compassion should drive our civil society. All apply in my line of work as philanthropic counsel to a broad range of institutions and individuals.
A patrician relative once imparted: “What you need for success in life is a well-fitting tuxedo and knowing how to play bridge.” We’re more sophisticated today in the fundraising arena, but a version of that wisdom is still true. Agility across contexts and conversations makes you relevant as a professional and valuable as a fundraiser.
In the end, if you can join the conversation in a meaningful way, you are able to influence outcomes, either in a gallery, on a stage, or behind the scenes in a lab.
When talking to young fundraisers, I advise a broad scope of engagements and interests, a professional approach that ideally mirrors a personal approach to knowing the world, and inserting yourself in ways that matter.
Download the “Generally Speaking, You’re an Expert” PDF [443kb] here.