Chapter Leadership Brief 7.03.19

By Steve Jacobson, AFP-NYC President-Elect and CEO, JCA, Inc. 

The Fork in the Road

This past Wednesday, I had lunch with two colleagues whom I’ve each known for more than 20 years.  We get together once or twice a year to talk about everything and nothing (yes, all three of us are Seinfeld fans).  Sometimes, we forget that we haven’t met up recently.  After all, we have jobs and families and we just get busy.  This year, we ran into one another at Fundraising Day, which, by the way, had the highest attendance since the pre-Great Recession year of 2008.  So, we promised each other that we would set a date and meet.  And so we did.

Conversation always flows freely when we meet (no, there was no alcohol involved).  We’ve spent most of our adult lifetimes in and around fundraising.  At times, we’ve even worked with one another.  Fundraising has given us not only a common language, but a common bond.  We are not just colleagues; we are friends.

At one point during our lunch, the conversation turned to the question of how we all had gotten started in fundraising.  Oddly enough, in all the years we’ve known each other, we hadn’t delved into the deep, deep past.  As it turned out, like many of you, we never set out to be fundraisers.  We didn’t study philanthropy in college; we didn’t have career aspirations to be a chief development officer, run a charity’s operations or head up companies whose missions are all about making nonprofits successful.  But, that’s who we became.

I’ve heard some people use the term “accidental fundraiser” to capture the serendipity of our career paths.  And, to some extent, that’s true.  However, I think that it’s more appropriate to look at each juncture, each fork in the road, where we had decisions to make that ultimately led us down the fundraising path – or, for others, took them off on some other journey.  For the three of us, we had no idea that the seemingly innocuous choices we made early on in our professional lives would shape our future so drastically.

The first fork in the road for me was in 1985, when I decided to leave the corporate world and co-found a start-up (did that term even exist back then?) to provide technology to all types of businesses.  It wasn’t long before we landed our first nonprofit client, NYU Medical Center (now NYU Langone Health).  I really loved working with nonprofits and, in particular, their fundraising teams.  So, two years later, I created my own fork in the road: I decided to focus exclusively on providing technology solutions to nonprofits.

My two friends had very different stories to tell about their beginnings, but the one constant was that we all got to where we are, not by designing and following some grand plan, but by making small turns – or not – that carried us down a path to the land of fundraising.  It’s been a different journey for each of us, with highs and lows along the way.  But, in the end, we all agreed that we couldn’t envision a better alternative.

How about you?  Do you have a story to tell?  If so, please email me at steve.jacobson@jcainc.com and, with your permission, I’ll compile and post them anonymously. 

Have a great Fourth of July!

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