Take Time to Enjoy Your Tea

Choose the opportunity to slow down, breathe, and make the most of what is right in front of you By Susan Rostkoski, Principal Consultant Executive leadership, fundraising, and development

Two decades ago, at a London tea shop near the British Museum, at 9:45 a.m., I learned a simple lesson that would impact my entire career as a development professional.

I had finished my scone and was, rather inelegantly, gulping the remaining half cup of my tea before I headed out the door for more touring. I’d not started as early as I wanted and was now running behind on my schedule to see as much of the British Museum as I could before I left for the States the following day. My waitress walked by and said, “You seem to be in a bit of a hurry, luv.” “Yes,” I replied, “I’m anxious to get to the museum when the doors open.” She smiled and said, “Ah, there’s nothing like a good cuppa in the morning. The museum will still be there.”

To say I was “gob-smacked” (a British term for astounded) is an understatement. Here I was, in the midst of the most quintessential British ritual, the tea break, and I was missing it because of my to-do list--my schedule--my idea of what would make the most of my time.

This is not to say that lists, schedules, and efficiency are bad things. Sometimes they are sorely needed but it is up to the individual to determine their place. Choosing the opportunity to slow down, breathe, and make the most of what is right in front of you is sorely needed too.

One example: In the human services nonprofit at which I worked, we decided that thank-you calls to our long-term donors (i.e. anyone who had given for five years or more, including corporate, business, and foundation partners) would be good stewardship. We segmented the database, created a script, printed out lists of 10 people or organizations to assign to development staff and the resource development committee, and set up a large space that allowed us to be in the same room to make our calls at the same time. I was so proud of us! Until—the marketing manager came to me and asked why she hadn’t been included in the group. After all, she wanted to be a development professional and talking with donors was a great way to find out whether our message was getting out. I recalled that, months ago, she had asked to be included in developmental opportunities.

Quickly sorting through my embarrassment and defensiveness, I realized that, once again, opportunity was staring me in the face. Ms. Marketing Manager wanted to help, wanted to grow, and was enthusiastic about donor relations. But I had not slowed down enough to ask myself who else should be included in addition to “the usual suspects.” What about this calling session (of which we had had many before) was getting stale? How might the marketing manager’s area of expertise help improve the process? (We subsequently invited two program staff and one administrative staff to join us and share their feedback afterward.)

Perhaps you’ve had a similar moment (or a story!) that validates the need to capture the richness of what is right in front of you; the “luxury” of a creative ah-ha! moment. Over time, the focus on changing my own behavior produced results for me and my department that became evident:

  1. I developed a new sense of passion when interacting or corresponding with donors. Yes, I really looked forward to the lunches, coffees, and evening or Saturday meetings because I could enjoy them for what they were: connecting person to person.

  2. My work became more team-oriented, less top-down. Not surprisingly, staff retention rose and other departments began calling on our team’s expertise when they were contemplating a new process or program. This way, we often got out ahead of funding needs rather than chasing the dollars.

  3. Creativity soared, both for me and my staff, resulting in new donors (both institutional and individual) because we were using new approaches.

  4. In particular, I began to deal with “what is”, not “what I wish it would be.” So much more relaxing and eye-opening.

So, slow down, enjoy your tea, and you might discover some changes for your approach to fundraising work. Now, ready, set, breathe…