In Times of Uncertainty: Humanity Wins
Previously, I shared my experience as a frontline fundraiser in the face of an international pandemic. As the months have passed since I penned my initial thoughts, numerous changes in my life and my donors’ and friends’ lives have taken place. At first, I was hesitant to embrace this “new normal,” but that shifted very quickly, and it became noticeably clear that this was our new way of life, for now, and the foreseeable future. By no means is it embarrassing to say out loud that I was and am scared, and who isn’t? The world changed so fast that we did not even have a moment to react appropriately.
Embracing and accepting change
Those who work for NGOs understand that continuing to fundraise is now more critical than ever. I was, and I am one of those individuals who, fortunately, continues to be employed by the same organization. A day does not go by that I think about how lucky I am. In one of my many appeal letters to donors, I referenced that change happened, and when it did, we adapted quickly. In-person meetings are a thing of the past, at least for now. So, what does a fundraiser do when breakfasts, coffees, lunches, and dinners are no longer an option? We get creative!
As referenced previously, my relationships with donors have become valued friendships. In one extremely fortunate instance, FaceTime became the key to contacting a donor/friend of WVIA. An individual who I now consider to be one of my closest friends and allies, FaceTime’s me every week to stay in touch during these uncertain times. Not only has our friendship strengthened, but my understanding of why she continues to support my work is a constant reminder that those who can give will give.
Not only has our friendship strengthened, but my understanding of why she continues to support my work is a constant reminder that those who can give will give.
Many personal changes have occurred since the United States went into an initial period of lockdown. I moved from a one-bedroom apartment to a house, and my responsibilities shifted drastically. Previously, I only had to make sure to take my trash out by walking down the hallway. Now, I am responsible for a home, the lives of two adorable dogs, including one who needs a little extra help getting up and down the stairs. I have also learned the importance and proper use of a humidifier (or is it a dehumidifier?), why you rake leaves as soon as they grace the patio, and other skills required of a homeowner. My only family connection, my father, moved across the state. Having recently lost my mother, this was a shock to the system and a daunting one at that. I was not prepared for the many changes that tested my mental strength. I am lucky that donors stepped up, without being asked, and continue to support me personally, professionally, and continue to make contributions to the organization I work for.
A new understanding
In August, I celebrated my birthday. I have never been one for grandiose parties, but this year it was not even an option. My understanding of this world and my responsibilities changed, right around the time I became, what I reluctantly consider “middle-aged.”
We can change the way we reach out to others, emphasize gratitude and understanding in our messaging, and accept that there is a genuine struggle facing everyone in the world. We all encounter daily challenges; some have a more massive lift than others. But I have always believed that we must get past our differences and work together for stability. I have learned that now is an incredibly important time to focus on this when the entire world is uncertain of the next move. My colleagues at the office, my family, my donors, my friends are all responsible, whether they realize it or not, for my continued efforts in the NGO sector. This includes my efforts outside of the daily 9-to-5 workday, as a fundraiser’s job is never done.
Relationships matter most
I am fortunate to have donors and friends who want to meet in-person. I remain grateful for every one of these occasions. What may seem like a simple lunch means so much more than just sharing a bite to eat. Dining while viewing the local river and enjoying the culture of a small town with another person means that these friendships are not going anywhere, nor is the commitment to my organization. My job as a fundraiser helps me feel valued and connected. Why else would a couple who are following societal norms and playing it safe, as I encourage others to do and follow the same rules myself, meet with me? Because we remain connected by a friendship that did not disappear in the face of a disaster. Real friendships, with donors, with supporters, they strengthen.
[Despite the new normal,] friendships [with donors] are not going anywhere, nor is the commitment to my organization.
Outside of my full-time job as the Major & Planned Giving Officer for WVIA, I remain involved with other organizations. I take great pride in the Scranton Fringe Festival’s success, an organization where I have served as a board member since August 2017. When my mother passed away in April of 2018, my father and I established a fund in her honor to promote live theater and music with Scranton Fringe. This year, Fringe developed an idea for socially distant theatre. What would have been a nine-day festival turned into a three-day showing on a smaller scale, allowing those (including myself) to participate and enjoy live theatre, separated by glass, in six different locations across downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania. “Fringe Under Glass” was a huge success, with tickets almost selling out. This event was one of the first times I stepped outside my bubble since March, and I left with a feeling of renewal, revival. I felt valued, and dare I say hubris that we persisted in successfully holding a series of socially distant, short, theatrical productions, and the public enjoyed this just as much as those of us who partook in the planning process. With the help of creative individuals, innovative technology, and out of the box thinking, we surpassed even our expectations.
With the help of creative individuals, innovative technology, and out of the box thinking, we surpassed even our expectations
Not only did we thrive as an organization, but our concern for the safety of others was appreciated by my organization, WVIA, and featured on the premiere episode of one of our new television programs, Keystone Edition — State of the Arts during the COVID 19 Pandemic. This was a live television show hosted by my dear friend and colleague, Erika Funke. Scranton Fringe Festival Co-Founder, Conor Kelly O’Brien says it best when he emphasizes that we would be nowhere without the support of our community, that “The arts need to be reflective of the community in which they exist, while simultaneously challenging ourselves to be better. The greater arts scene of Northeast Pennsylvania does just that!”
Another friend who has, from day one, been there, giving back to the local community, is Jordan Galasso, owner of a healthy prepared meal company, which I helped found years ago, Fit AF Nutrition. Jordan and his team have given free meals to those in need ever since the pandemic began. The most impressive aspect of this is that he has expected nothing in return. There has been no press coverage; no social media posts boasting what the company is doing to help others. Jordan is giving back because it is the right thing to do. His work and the Scranton Fringe Team’s work are reminders that it might be frightening to rely on others to fulfill needs that are an absolute necessity for survival; putting your hope in others’ hands is kind of what philanthropy is all about.
We are fundraisers. We raise money; we help others; we go out on a limb sharing new ideas and new ways of giving back because we believe in each other, and we believe in the mission of the organizations we work for.
We are fundraisers. We raise money; we help others; we go out on a limb sharing new ideas and new ways of giving back because we believe in each other, and we believe in the mission of the organizations we work for. When the world has a sense of normalcy once again, I hope that we all look back and thank those who continue to serve as beacons of hope. Those who did the right thing, who helped others, and never turned their backs on individuals in need.
Before I worked in fundraising for a public media station, I had the great fortune to serve as the fundraising manager for an international NGO formed out of Harvard University, The Abraham Path Initiative. Founder and author William Ury set the tone, and we never lost sight at API of the fundamental insight that no matter what divides us, what unites us is far greater. I hope that when the sun rises, the moon sets, and the pandemic dissipates, people will remember that a united front always prevails. Anyone, even an ordinary person like myself, can join the international coalition of great minds, finest scientists, and world leaders. We embrace understanding, acceptance, and awareness for something far more significant than ourselves to defeat the impossible. Race, orientation, economic status, and religion will not divide us as we unite to change the world. We are much stronger when we strive for a greater good because humanity, in the broadest sense of the word, wins.
There is value in recognizing that each one of us has a role to play in what comes next. I am proud of where I stand and where I intend to go.
1985 – 2020
Eternal optimist whose enthusiasm was extremely contagious, John was a passionate individual we truly enjoyed working with. His fundraising insights and life views helped lighten the days of many of our peers during the pandemic. While his voice is gone, his legacy remains.
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