The following is a guest post written by Jeremy Gregg, bio below, for the Nonprofit Professional Development Series. It’s purpose is share insights, experiences, and knowledge from nonprofit executives. If you would like to submit an article to be published as part of this series, please email Greg Allbright (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Hobbit as Nonprofit Manager: How to Do Great Things without Forgetting the Good Things
In a hole in the ground, there lived a fundraiser.
Two things have defined a large part of who I am today: the career I chose as an adult, and the books that I loved as a child..
The first is that I have spent my entire career in the Land of Non. All but one month of this time has been spent focused on fundraising (oh, woe! the sad moment when I parted from those first 30 days!). I have worked for organizations large and small, and wear the scars of many a battle to make payroll.
I have seen lives broken, and I have seen them rebuilt. My eyes have been rivers of tears; my throat, a furnace erupting in the flames of their stories.
And yet my lungs have been stretched with furious laughter, my tiny mind enlightened with the brilliance of my comrades and my soul enlarged with the selfless love of our donors. In short, my career has been an amazing and unexpected journey of self-discovery and definition.
Yet this journey itself has been largely defined by something else: the first books that I remember reading as a child were the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. When I became a father, one of my greatest joys was the day when my daughters were old enough to sit through readings of The Hobbit.
As we finished the last chapter of that book, it struck me that I have learned a great deal from Master Baggins about how to cope with the pressures and strains of a career dedicated to solving the world’s greatest problems. To wit, here are the lines that end that text, starting with the words of the wizard, Gandalf:
“You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”
“Thank goodness!” said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.
Nonprofit managers, take heed. The problems that you face – generational poverty, incurable disease, an almost systemic form of despair sown into distressed communities – are vast. And yet you have seen how the work of your hands has made progress against them. You have been held in the embrace of a life changed through the workings of your own ministry and the services of your organization.
How easy it is to think that these moments came through your own virtue. And worse, how easy it is to allow these moments, this work in which you are engaged, to define you. Indeed, to consume you.
Let us not forget that we are among the most privileged people on earth. We have a front row seat to the greatest story being told: the tale of the rise of the social sector in the midst of society’s swelling concerns. Yet we are rarely Bard the Bowman, felling the dragons that threaten to destroy our world. More often we are little Bilbo, there mostly to serve as a vehicle for forces larger than us to weave their work through our words and deeds.
Simply because our lives are the vessels through which great things are done, let us not presume that we are similarly great. Let us sit back, pull out our pipe, and wonder in amazement at our own good fortune for being in this place and time in history.
Work hard. Do great things. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad.
Jeremy Gregg is a happily married father of two, serial social entrepreneur and furry-toed fundraiser working in Dallas, Texas for the PLAN Fund. Read more of his ramblings at www.JeremyGregg.com.