By Vanessa Abaya
When I worked as a waitress in my younger days, we had an expression: “Being in the weeds.” This essentially meant that we had lost control of our section, were overwhelmed and needed help to manage the activity. Today (in my less younger days), I am a professional fundraiser and we also use this same expression. Having recently found myself deep “in the weeds”, I thought it was time for some perspective. My solution was to attend the AFP International Conference, recently held in San Francisco.
During my five days at the conference (I also attended a two-day pre-conference), I met dedicated and passionate fundraisers. We opened up about our challenges and frustrations. We laughed at the same jokes, recognizing these familiar situations, despite our distance and diversity. We spoke about our proudest days, which usually involved helping someone in need or making the world just a little bit better.
I was inspired by the incredible speakers. Their sharp insights and deep knowledge challenged me to think critically about my role as a leader, a strategist, and a practitioner. Although disruption seemed to be a common theme, meaningful and authentic relationships with our donors were always at the heart of their sessions.
At one session, the facilitator encouraged me to create an action plan – after all as fundraisers, we’re people of action. First, I committed to making room for study. There is an immense body of work that informs our fundraising practice and this is often available at little or no cost. I’ve scheduled 1-2 hours every two weeks for study – a modest, but achievable schedule.
Second, I promised to engage in conversations with my colleagues about the lessons I learned in San Francisco. I’m fortunate enough to work for an organization that values innovation and excellence. Since returning, I’m already working with colleagues to incorporate some of these new ideas into our organizational plans.
Lastly, I promised to honour what is best about our profession. I haven’t yet worked out the details to this one, but I thought this article was a step towards accomplishing this goal.
I considered my first day back in the office as a new beginning – a sort of “New Year.” According to commonly cited statistics, only 8% of people actually keep their New Year’s resolution. In fact, 80% of people fail by the second week of February. So, the odds are against me. The good news is that if I continue to take small steps and build on my initial plans, my odds of success increase.
We are members of an extraordinary profession. When we succeed, some of the most vulnerable people in our community benefit. Our passion and commitment to our respective causes are truly admirable. And we bridge the divide between those who need a helping hand and those who want to give that aid.
The weeds are out there and we can easily be overwhelmed by them. Consider cutting through the weeds and attend a professional development conference or seminar. You don’t have to go to an international conference. We have incredible professional associations in our backyard. I encourage you to get out there, connect and be inspired.
Happy New Year!
Vanessa Abaya has worked as a fundraising professional for a variety of organizations over the past 20 years, including the University of Toronto, Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation, ROM Governors, AIDS Committee of Toronto, and the Vancouver Playhouse. After building a solid track record as a major gift fundraiser in Toronto, she returned to Vancouver be closer to her family. She currently serves as Senior Director of Philanthropy at BC Children’s Hospital Foundation, overseeing the major gift, leadership giving and planned giving programs. She is an active volunteer with AFP, most recently serving on the Board of the Vancouver Chapter. She obtained her CFRE designation in 2008.