Ever wonder what it’s like to work for a nonprofit organization? For a novel twist on the topic and to give those interested in a career in the field a glimpse of what it's like, Professor Tom Eskey, DPA, created this fictional account of a senior-level third-sector leader. Here’s his take on what to expect from sunup to sundown.
The alarm is set to go off in exactly two minutes but my internal clock, sensing the anticipation and excitement brewing inside of me as I dream about the upcoming day’s events, wakes me up a tad earlier. With everything I’ve got going on today, I really don’t mind.
Those two minutes are going to come in handy!
I emerge from the shower, the slight grogginess that I had felt almost completely extinguished. I inhale the warm steam and start to shave. It’s not long before a thought comes to me.
“Is the site visit at 12:45pm or 1pm?”
I grab my planner, at this point completely desensitized to the sheer size and to the number of bookmarks and other placeholders, and flip to THURSDAY.
The visit is at 12:45pm. Lunch is gonna be quick today.
I decide on a more subdued brown sport coat and will go sans tie for most of the morning and afternoon. Tonight’s gala will require a bit more formality in regards to attire and being comfortable throughout all of the upcoming activities will be the order of the day.
As I walk down the driveway my phone buzzes, my reminder tone.
“8:30am MEET WITH HARRY FEINDMAN, GRACE JOHNSON, MICHAEL OROS. 10:15am MEET WITH VICTOR VALDEZ. 12:30pm SITE TRIP 5:30pm GYM (YES, YOU HAVE TO GO!)
I smile as I look down at the screen and quickly rummage through my satchel to make sure that I’ve packed my sneakers. A second later my phone buzzes again, a text message from Grace.
“Good morning! Remember that we’re meeting at 8:30am this morning. See you soon!”
How could I forget?!
The brisk morning air is quickly supplanted by the warmth of the office. It isn’t in the most beautiful or modern building, but the sheer energy and excitement for today’s activities keeps the place toasty. Not surprisingly, I’m far from the first to arrive.
I set my satchel down, boot up my computer, and begin reviewing notes for my 8:30 meeting. I look over the different newsletter formats and graphics as well as the positive messages that Michael sent out in his meeting “prep” email. We have already gotten some feedback on last month’s mailer and the key members of the development team that I’m meeting with today are pretty pleased. I can tell that this meeting is gonna be a fun one.
Michael starts things just on time. Harry and Grace, two of the longer tenured development team members, are here, too, and I’m a bit envious of their steaming cups o’ Joe. (I got lost in the preparatory notes and didn’t have time to make one!)
We review last month’s newsletter mailer and discuss how it was received by existing donors.
Longstanding donors still prefer the paper version, but newer donors seem to be angling for more e-delivered material. We make a point to include a brief survey at the end of next month’s newsletter, explicitly asking for donor input on the matter.
Additionally, Board members are still hesitant to participate in formal fundraising activities so we plan to discuss these responsibilities with individual members.
Harry seems to have taken an amused interest in the expressed media preferences, joining me as we walk back towards our offices.
“You know who else loves print media? My grandmother!” he snickers, nudging me and giving a playful wink.
“Mine too, but you know how it is. You gotta know your audience!”
I set my meeting notes on my desk and immediately start making my way over to meet Victor in his office. He is one of our newer program officers, and I try to have an extended one-on-one with each of these valuable team members at some point during their first month on the job. He’ll start working on-site at the center next week so our conversation shifts to daily operations, the population served, and the general program missions and outcomes.
“They’ve been asking about you for a few weeks now. I think they’re getting sick of me!” I say.
Harry answers, “If that’s really the case … would you mind if I joined you today. I’ve been itching to get out there!”
I think about it for a second. “Let me think about it. Ask me after lunch!”
As expected, lunch is short. Thankfully, I’ve mastered the art of efficiently managing the Friday lasagna special while sifting through my daily notes.
My phone buzzes (again). It’s Allissa, my wife.
“Does mister, senior, professional, official deputy director prefer blue or black?” is accompanied by two picture attachments showing her dress “finalists” for the night.
“Like you’re not going to stun in either. Surprise me!”
No longer hungry and feeling refreshed, I round the corner back to my office. I’m just about to step inside when …
“Hey! Decide yet?”
It’s Victor, bless his heart.
“Let’s roll,” I say, patting his shoulder for emphasis.
“I really appreciate you brining me out today. I’m really looking forward to getting started with those kids.”
Victor and I are walking back to HQ, a bit exhausted but excited about the trip and some of the advancements that have been made in the last few months. I take a look down at my notes:
- Extended after-school hours have led to 35 percent enrollment increase
- Staff satisfaction appears high
- Finished multipurpose rooms are not being used yet but have been outfitted with furniture and multimedia equipment
- “Legacy” volunteer support is on the rise
- All scholarship recipients will be in attendance tonight!
“You’re gonna love it,” I say. “The work that those kids are doing … they are taking that place to new heights!”
The building is quieting down a little bit as much of the staff have left a little early to start preparing for the evening’s festivities. I take advantage of the unusually calm atmosphere to review today’s notes more closely and to put some more detailed ideas to paper. I close my door for the first time this week.
A second later ,I glance down at the clock on my computer monitor.
“Pretty long second!” I think to myself, noting the passage of time. Looking down at the page of notes, organized into respective activity notebooks, I’m satisfied that it’s been time well spent.
I scroll over to my emails. I was somehow oblivious to the received message tone (I must be quite desensitized to them by this point in the day!) and notice that Kristen Amos, a former coworker from when I worked with Juntos (a regional organization that works to connect volunteers with third sector organizations and service opportunities … some really great memories!), just sent a follow-up email.
Unfortunately, I quickly realize that I never responded to the original inquiry!
“Not too late in the afternoon for a quick call,” I reassure myself, picking up the phone and entering the number from Kristen’s email signature.
“You are alive,” she says, answering on the first ring.
“With everything I have going on right now, I had better be!”
“Great! That means you can help me with a little strategic planning question …”
“Yep,” I say as we finish our call. “We’ll talk again before Wednesday, but that sounds good. I’m looking forward to seeing you there.”
Kristen and I confirm our plans for lunch next week just as I lace up my sneakers. Hopefully, she didn’t mind being on speakerphone, but knowing that the longer I wait to get dressed for the gym, the less likely it is that I’ll go.
I pull my best Clark Kent impression and within a minute of hanging up, I’m out the door and walking the three blocks to the fitness center. It’s gonna be a quick workout today, but having seen the goodies that will be served tonight, I’m classifying it as a “preemptive measure”!
I’m still a bit overheated from my workout but am feeling re-energized as I knot my tie and give myself a once-over.
“Not bad!” I think to myself, admiring my semi-formal attire for the evening.
My phone buzzes for roughly the 76th time today. It’s Allissa.
“Decided on the black one. Heading over now. See you soon!!”
I smile and grab my presentation notes. I give myself one last look before hustling out the door.
“Not bad at all …”
“It was truly even better than I could have imagined. Thanks again for helping to put this all together. We really appreciate what you have done and what you continue to do for the kids.”
“We love doing it. Thanks for all of the support!”
As the party is winding down, I have to admit it: This conversation is getting a little old.
There are worse problems in the world than having similar conversations throughout the evening with supportive family members and mentors, though.
Aside from a slow, nerve-racking start to my speech and a delay with getting dessert out, the event was a huge success. Only two of the scholarship recipients didn’t have family members to accept their awards with and Michael graciously invited them to sit with his own family.
Major donors were in attendance and a couple of advisory members delivered rousing and inspirational speeches. We were even caught off guard by a substantial surprise donation.
Some local media members were in attendance and I’m anticipating a positive event write-up. Best-case scenario: This event takes twice as long to plan for, setup, and tear down next year with all of the additional interest.
I have a brief “off the record” chat with Phil Bronson from The Journal and Executive Director Daniel Phillips (the boss!) when suddenly, Andrew Scott, one of the evening’s scholarship recipients, comes running up, cradling his award plaque like a football.
“Thanks for getting Vic out there today. He is going to be much better competition than you were back in the day!”
“Hey now! I haven’t had quite enough time to work on my jump shot for a bit!”
On cue, my phone buzzes once more, but this time, it’s actually ringing. I hold it up for Andrew to see.
“Duty calls!” I say.
I excuse myself to take the call: “Thank you so much! It was such a great event … ”
Allissa is fast asleep. I still have 4 minutes left, though.
I review tomorrow’s schedule one last time, stifling back a yawn.
I’m tired. It has certainly been a long day, but I ask myself the same question that I always do as I fall asleep.
“How else can I help? What more can I do tomorrow?”
Thankfully, I know that everyone else in the organization and in the third sector is thinking the exact same thing. Naturally, I sleep very soundly.