Building the Future: A Legacy of Success

Develop What? Creating a Legacy of Pride

Contributing to a blog is like contributing to the Pharmacy of Life:  Some days we’re Confucius, dispensing wisdom, while on others we’re more like Ann Landers, dispensing advice to anyone who will listen. Today my dispensary is a little Garrison Keillor-ish”.  Allow me to share a homespun yarn that will validate why we do what we do.

“Develop what?” Thirty years ago that was my dad’s response when I told him I had been named Assistant Director of Development at Viterbo College. Unfamiliar with the field of development—and already frustrated that his youngest daughter had taken the nonprofit road rather than getting a “real” job in business—he was even less thrilled when I told him that “development” meant fundraising, in this case for a small liberal arts college in western Wisconsin.

“Why in the world would you do that?” Dad continued. His tone conveyed that it really didn’t matter what I said.  I could have explained that it would be fun to coordinate special events, that it would be a great way to use my communication skills, or that it would be fulfilling to have an impact on this small school.   I knew none of that mattered.  Since he really didn’t understand the field, it didn’t pay very well and, from his perspective, fun and gratification were not reasons to pursue a career, it wasn’t a real job.  So, I said very little, only that, while the pay wasn’t great, mileage reimbursement would go toward my car payments.  At least that reflected a language he understood: dollars and cents.

I loved my years at Viterbo. A neophyte to development, being at a small college afforded me the opportunity to gain valuable hands-on experience. I coordinated alumni efforts, including that division of Building the Future, their ambitious capital campaign. With a whopping goal of $4.9 million (remember, the year was 1984), we focused on bricks and mortar projects designed to enhance facilities. I have fond memories of every campaign activity, especially requesting and receiving amazing contributions from individuals committed to securing the future of their Alma Mater. It was exhilarating and satisfying all at once.  And, while I left for another development job before all the projects were completed, I returned frequently. Even after more campaigns and expansions, I felt extreme pride in the role I had played in their success.

The end of the story? Not quite, though if it was, I think readers could relate to that swell of satisfaction that arises with each project you’ve helped complete. There is an intangible sensation that comes from knowing what one has contributed to an organization’s success. But my contribution to Viterbo had yet to come full circle.

Last spring I encouraged my daughter, then a high school junior, to take a tour of eight diverse schools.  My goal?  For her to explore each campus and see where she “fit” the best.  Public and private, big and small, we saw a bit of everything.  I had worked at a few of them, but I wasn’t trying to sway the decision as much as I was attempting to show her the vast diversity that existed. However, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of that pride return when I saw how Viterbo had continued to grow, knowing I had played a small part in its development.

As the list narrowed and it became apparent what her choice would be, it occurred to me that, thirty years ago I had never once considered the possibility that my own child would someday be the one walking through the halls I had helped build.

So, Dad, while you might not have understood then why I was willing to work for peanuts and forgo much more lucrative opportunities, I can assure you that I have an answer to your question. Develop what? The future.  Lives of young people. Leaders of tomorrow. And, in a few short months, my own legacy. So if anyone ever questions your choice of careers, remember, the life you may change may be closer to home than you ever imagined.