Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Perfect Storm

Imagine getting a call from a former colleague who tells you about a non-profit organization that’s about 16 years old with a database of nearly a million constituents.  Imagine that colleague is about to become the new vice president of development and chief philanthropy officer and he’s going there to build a major gift program. 

What if he told you they were looking for someone to do prospect development there?  Think of what you would say if he asked you to come check it out.  Before you answer – there’s more.

What if you had a great working relationship with said colleague and you could hear an excitement in his voice that you hadn’t heard in years. 

But… there’s always a “but,” right?  What if the opportunity was for less money than you made at your previous two positions?  What if in your last two positions you had 5 and 7 direct reports respectively and at this organization you would be a one person shop (although there was the possibility of building something from the ground up)?

What if you knew that you would have to roll up your sleeves and do some things you might typically have assigned to your team in the past?  

Would you blink?  

There was a lot to consider.  Could I be a one person shop after not serving in that role for quite some time?  How rusty were my actual research skills?

What if...

I thought long and hard about this.  I started to think back...

Are you the kind of person who is all about what you get (title, salary, office, etc.) or are you about what you get to do? There is no right or wrong answer and this is a personal choice for each individual for sure.

I once had the pleasure of attending an Advancement Resources Workshop where they handed out buttons that read "It's not about me."  In the book, "The Purpose Driven Life" - the first words you read are "It's not about you."

I decided to check things out.  I had to.  I was too intrigued. 

The moment I walked through the doors, I knew there was something different about the organization.  I felt like I was at the Google of non-profits. The space was cool. The conference rooms had unique names like "Take Action  Room," and "Discovery Room." There were pictures of volunteers, survivors, and advocates on the walls.  

The cause was everywhere.  It was in your face, but in an inspiring way.  I found that even the physical space was really unlike any place I had been to before.

I interviewed with the senior director of advancement operations and the chief operation’s officer who is also the chief financial officer.  They asked questions and I did my best to answer.  

We discussed data.  We talked about the opportunity. We talked about my colleague who hadn't started at the organization yet.  They told me about the culture; yes, the culture.  I learned about a volunteer base that has often been described as being like "rabid soccer fans."  We discussed a lot of things.

During the course of my interview, it was clear I was probably over-qualified and the senior director even said as much.

What now?  Imagine my thought process.

I couldn't let this opportunity slip away.  I needed to write a thank-you letter.

In my letter, I let the senior director know that yes, perhaps I was over qualified; however, perhaps a better way to look at the situation was to say I was the right person, at the right time for the right organization.  I truly believed this in my heart.

I knew there was something special at this organization and I had to see it through.

Next, I met the founder of the organization and found her to be truly inspiring.  I remember thinking, “How often does anyone get to meet the founder of an organization during an interview process?”  I also met the director of strategic partnerships and it was becoming clear to me that this was definitely not a typical non-profit.

I got the sense that there was a collaborative effort at this organization and I my interest continued to pique.

I began to ask myself – "What is this place?"  I began to do my own research (of course).  I read the bio of the chief executive officer and combed through the web site to begin to understand what this place was all about.  

I began to see myself at this organization.  I could imagine myself as part of something bigger than myself.  I saw an opportunity.  I felt a calling.  I wanted to jump right in and join the cause.

Thankfully, I was offered the position the next day.  

At some point during the process, the founder said to me “You’re going to have the biggest impact of any place you’ve ever worked, right here.”


Part of me was scared to death.  Part of me was excited beyond belief.  I guess that’s what happens when you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.

Now, the fun begins....

Welcome to Adventures in Prospect Development!  

I hope you’ll join me in this journey through the world of research, prospect management and major gift fundraising.  You will have an opportunity to read about the good, the bad and the crazy things I have experienced and hopefully have some fun along the way.

I’ve been in the business of prospect development for a while now.  Let’s just say that I’ve been around long enough to think I’ve learned a thing or two during that time.  I will admit there are some things I learned the hard way; but all in all, it’s been a good ride. 

Don't get me wrong - it's hardly over.  In fact, I'd say it's just begun.

I’ve now worked at five non-profits – which includes two universities, a medical center, a comprehensive cancer center and I am now at a cause related/disease specific organization called the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

I’ve been involved in two, one billion dollar campaigns, a $500 million campaign and worked with development teams both large and small.  That doesn't make me a big deal by any means (quite the contrary).  It simply means I have had the honor of working on worthy causes at great institutions.

My career path has allowed me to gain a lot of perspective and although I’m not saying I have all the answers (absolutely not), I do believe I have some unique opinions and ideas.  At the very least, I have some interesting stories to share.

So, back to present day...

I’ve been here for nearly six months and coming to this organization may be the best career decision I’ve ever made. Remember the part above about being "over qualified?'  I really don't think it has turned out that way.  I really believe I am the right person, at the right time for this organization.


You're about to find out in the posts to come.  Please note the thoughts and opinions to be expressed will be strictly my own.

This won’t just be about the work (that would be too boring).  It will be about the experience of doing something I never saw coming and about finding my groove in the work place and recapturing some magic that quite frankly, I thought was lost.

In some ways, I guess you could say my journey to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has been the perfect storm.


  1. James, congrats on your new adventure, and what a fantastic first blog post! Thanks for sharing your story, and best of luck to you as you make a difference to your organization in your new role.

  2. Inspiring! Looking forward to more! Would love to hear what your priorities are.

  3. James, you said it very well. The right person at the right time for the right organization. As your friend I am happy for you. As someone in the same development space, I am happy for the organization.

  4. Thank you all very much! There's more to come and soon!

  5. James, Great first post! Looking forward to more.
    Love your statement about, "It will be about the experience of doing something I never saw coming...and recapturing some magic.... For those of us with many years in the field, it can be uncomfortable to try something new. But it is the perfect way to continue growing and being creative. What a great opportunity!
    Looking forward to the next post!

  6. Absolutely awesome James! I'm along for the ride!

  7. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is lucky to have you! *full disclosure - I work there!