Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Journey Part 5

Once again, if you’ve been following along on my journey through a 27 year+ career in prospect development – thank you. I appreciate your willingness to walk with me as I recount the days, months and years that are filled with stories about the connections I’ve made, the trials and triumphs I’ve had along the way and the relationships I’ve built and continue to build.

In the fall of 2013 my world would begin to turn upside down as my mother started to experience symptoms that would ultimately be diagnosed as pulmonary fibrosis. Fortunately, I worked in relatively close proximity to her home – although it would still be a 20 minute drive from work to her house, but much closer than downtown L.A. where I worked at COH.

At the time I had no idea what pulmonary fibrosis was. I had never heard of it and although it was uncharacteristic of me, I never really took the time to research it. All I knew is that my mom was beginning to have breathing issues that impacted her energy level.

As time would march on, her need for help from me began to grow and her condition gradually got worse. By the start of 2014 rolled around her reliance on me became extraordinary.

As my mom’s needs began to increase, I found it difficult to balance my professional and personal life. I would often stop at her house prior to work, try to escape during lunch to help her and then visit her after work. I was becoming her care giver, but didn’t look at it that way at the time. I was just her son, doing what any son should do for a parent.

In rather rapid fashion, my mom became sicker and I became scared. I took her to see a specialist at UCLA named Dr. David Ross. That visit is a bit of a blur to me now. What I do remember is he never gave us an actual prognosis. At least not that I can recall. For whatever reason, I never sought one out either. I had no idea how serious her condition was.

It was a confusing time. I was trying to balance life. To compound matters – my mom didn’t want anyone to know about her condition. That made it tougher on me. I was beside myself with anxiety, frustration, fear and I was just plain exhausted all the time. The stress was immense.

This had a negative impact on my work. I’m not making excuses, but I know I wasn’t able to give my best to the work that had to be done. My team was largely unaware of what I was going through and the only person who had any remote idea was Babette Vogel (Chief of Staff to the VC).

Babette was as supportive as she could be, but she had no idea of the full extent of my circumstances. Her advice was always “do what you need to do.”

I didn’t have time to explain everything to anyone. I just acted. When you’re in the midst of dealing with things, it’s not easy to just stop and seek help. There were never enough hours in the day.

I tried to make up the work by working at night and on weekends when I was able. Mind you, this was something totally new to me. In my nearly 12 years at COH, I never once worked on a weekend or late into the night. I never had to and we accomplished great things along the way.

I’m a firm believer that if you can’t complete your work in the normal hours of work, you’re just not doing it right or something is wrong.  Well, the demands at UCI were different and I wasn’t handling it well.

Long story, short – by the time HR came to me to suggest I use FMLA to help manage my situation, my mom passed away.

My mom passed away on April 18, 2014. The days leading up to her passing were the most difficult of my life. They were horrific days. When she passed, I was devastated.

It was just prior to and during this time that Karen Greene began consulting with UCI. She was brought in to consult on a number of things, but also to give direction and guidance to me. It was something I wanted and needed. I would later realize this where I began to lose my autonomy.

We had two big projects taking place (among others). We were developing a prospect management and solicitation clearance process for the university and we were implementing the results of our predictive modeling and wealth screening results from Target Analytics.   

I would lose all control over these two projects and Karen would basically take over the writing of the prospect management policy and also the rolling out of new prospects to our DO’s.

Given everything that was happening with my mom, I was relieved Karen was there to take care of everything that needed to be done. It helped me focus on my mom and I am forever grateful for that.

Karen is a highly accomplished development professional. She is a pioneer in our field and a leader with impeccable credentials and a reputation that is exemplary. Her being at UCI during this time made it easier for me to focus on my mom. Her presence, allowed me to be selfish and I took full advantage of it.

After my mom’s passing, I continued to take time off. I used both bereavement and vacation time to get her affairs in order. I did this mostly by myself and with the help of Cheryl. It was incredibly overwhelming. I took about a month off to take care of everything and I needed every single one of those days.

The process of accounting for all of my mom’s things, while grieving the loss was incredibly hard. The days were long and exhausting.

By the time I came back to work I felt like I was staring into the abyss. There was so much to do, and digging myself out of that hole felt impossible. Again, I was also losing all of my autonomy.

From that point forward, it was as if I couldn’t do anything right. The effort and output of every project I worked on, wasn’t good enough. I was no longer forging my own path and I was beginning to just follow orders and attempted to do what was asked of me.

I was no longer driving projects and I was no longer doing things the way I thought was best. I just did what I was told.

As I approached the end of my second year at UCI, it was amazing how things had changed for me. I had gone from being a high achiever, who made monumental changes to being something less than who I really was.

Enter Sandra Campero.

When Sandra came on board as the AVC for Advancement Services in September of 2014, I was hopeful. I viewed her hire as a good thing not only for UCI, but for my team and me. I finally had a supervisor who I could interact with on a regular basis.

Did I find it a little awkward, given our long relationship? Yes I did, but I wanted to keep an open mind and really hoped for the best. Sandra was not only friends with me, but also with Dori. The dynamics of our relationships would have to change, but I was hopeful we could make it work.

Sandra also had a history with Gregory and Babette. She also had Karen Greene as a mentor.  All of them worked together at ASU. Sandra had a history of success and this position represented a huge opportunity for her.

Prior to all the events that lead to my mom’s passing, I was able to hire additional staff to my team. I viewed it as an opportunity to really raise the level of expertise on my team and hired two seasoned professionals in Kimberley Harvie and Jason Creque.

Jason had been high on my list for years. I met him at an Apra conference while he was working for Sandra at LMU. At the time and through a number of years – whenever you found Jason, you also found his colleague and friend Santiago Almaguer-Delgado. The two of them worked side by side as Research Analysts at LMU, USC and eventually at COH.

I knew them both, but became better acquainted with Jason over the years. I don’t know why that was the case, but I guess I always got the impression that Santiago would eventually become a major gift officer.

Well, I got that wrong. Jason is now a major gift officer at UCI and Santiago is the Director of Advancement Services at Scripps College in Pomona.

In any case, imagine my surprise when they both ended up at COH, not too long after I departed. They both began working at COH in January of 2013.  It was ironic because I had tried to recruit Jason to COH not long before I left and he wasn’t ready to leave USC at the time.

Remember my Monica Melgoza story?  Well, in May of 2014, I hired Jason as an Associate Director in my department. Unlike Monica (who I had to reach out to 3 times), the second time was the charm in his recruitment. 

Kimberley also joined the team as an Associate Director, coming to us from CSUF. It was a homecoming of sorts for Kimberley, who had actually begun her prospect development career at UCI.

In the two of them, I now had two dynamic additions to the team. That team was 7 people strong. It included Dori, Stacy, Robert, Lauren, Jason Toma, Jason Creque, and Kimberley.  Lauren would go back to gift processing in September of 2014 and I would eventually hire her replacement, Sean Fischer in 2015.

Like Jason Creque, Sean has since transitioned to a major gift officer role at UCI. Sean came to us with outstanding references. He was an easy hire, but many of us knew he would eventually become a major gift officer.

One note here. My journey wouldn’t be complete without a few words about Robert Adams. Robert is one of the most dependable people I have ever worked with in my career. He never once missed a day of work during the three years we worked together and that was true of most of his entire career. The guy just showed up, day after day, month after month and year after year.

He is also one of the most humble human beings I have ever known. It was a joy working with Robert and I valued his work and his friendship. We understood each other. Funny, Robert is a Dodger fan – and we became a great friends and colleagues along the way. Both of us have Japanese mothers and we have many things in common.

I always trusted Robert. I knew I could give him any assignment and he would never let me down.

I have always hoped that I would be in a position one day to work with Robert again. That hasn’t happened, but who knows what the future holds. One can hope.

As I look back at all the events of my final two years at UCI, specific dates as they relate to specific projects are a bit fuzzy now. I’ve tried my best to recount all the events and projects during that time, but I might not be entirely accurate with the dates.  So, with that…

Shortly after my return and prior to Sandra’s arrival, we implemented Reeher’s platform. I had done the research and made initial contact with the company to get the ball rolling and would eventually recommend the platform to Gregory who would approve the move.

The appeal of the platform was in its ability to give fundraisers (or anyone else for that matter) the ability to view their own metrics at their fingertips. It allowed us to gain access to the reports we needed faster than through traditional channels. That’s my recollection. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the platform and I don’t remember much of the details about the product today. 

I will say the best thing about working with Reeher was in working with Rebecca Leddick, who was tremendous in her role as a customer success manager at the time.   

Reeher also had a predictive model as part of its platform; however, it wasn’t something I was necessarily impressed with or paid much attention to. After all, we had Target Analytics and their predictive modeling and wealth screening. I will say the platform performed very well, just as advertised.

Let me pause right here to talk about Blackbaud’s Target Analytics or rather my account rep at the time – Matt Rautenbach.  Matt is hands down, and without question, the best account rep I have ever worked with in my 27+ years in development.

If you know anything about Blackbaud’s customer service – you probably know and have experienced how they constantly try to direct you to their online customer service platform whenever you have an issue.  Matt never did that with me. He always took action in a way that I appreciated. He always heard me and he always understood the issues at hand. He just handled things, period.

Matt was also personable and a joy to get to know. He is originally from Australia and went to College of Charleston where he met his wife. He now lives in the Seattle area with his beautiful family. A huge soccer fan – I would connect with Dan Montplaisir and his son Ben, who were planning a trip to Seattle to check out a professional soccer match there. Matt was kind enough to give them all the information they would need to help make their trip enjoyable. Matt always went above and beyond.

I always measure every account rep from every company I work with by the standard Matt set.

Back to the UCI journey…

Again, the time frame of Reeher is a little hazy to me now, but I believe it came at that time when my personal life was in turmoil. As a result, I would eventually lose control over this project and Dan Montplaisir would eventually take over the Reeher implementation process.  It’s something that just had to happen and a decision was made by Gregory to make the change.

It was the right move to make.

My work life was chaotic and again, I felt like I was constantly staring into the abyss. There never were enough hours in the day to do everything I wanted to do and needed to do. I felt alone in my job and I always felt stressed. Feeling alone in a job that is overwhelming is not a recipe for success.

Looking back, I have lots of thoughts about how things could have been different, but the only one I’ll share is about my relationship with Gregory.

One of the trademarks of my career has been in the relationships I have built along the way. The one relationship I never really developed at UCI was with Gregory. We didn’t know each other, the way Amy and I did at COH or in a way that my future supervisors and I would get to know each other. This was unfortunate. It also made things more challenging.

I reported directly to Gregory for a great deal of my time at UCI, but we didn’t see each other every day. Gregory was in a separate building on campus and I could go days without ever interacting with him. We never really had the kind of conversations that led to deeper engagement. We never got to know each other the way we should have and I think that contributed to the difficulties I would face as I navigated my way through my 3 years.

I don’t fault Gregory for that at all. Knowing what I know now and based on the things I’ve continued to learn since my time at UCI, I believe I could have done more to foster a better relationship with him.

In the long run, I feel as though I failed him. I didn’t live up to his expectations and quite honestly, I didn’t live up to my own expectations either. Life happened.

Gregory would leave UCI not too long after me in 2015. Sylvia Acosta and Dan Montplaisir would also depart UCI in 2017.

One thing I want to note about Gregory’s time at UCI. The year following his departure (2016), UCI announced a $40 million gift from Bill and Sue Gross to establish a Nursing School at UCI. It was a monumental gift I assume Gregory never got credit for, but he definitely played a role.

I distinctly remember conversations he and I had about the Gross’ and how he had identified the Nursing School as the perfect engagement opportunity for them. When the news broke about the gift, I reached out to Gregory to congratulate him and acknowledge his work. I don’t know if many others knew about his good work.
Once Sandra arrived – I hardly saw or talked to Gregory at all. Same with Babette. My world became smaller and my role changed.

It was at this point that my prospect development team started to look more like ASU, in my opinion. Everything from the format of our profiles to the way we introduced new prospects, felt like ASU’s way of doing things.

Sandra and I had different views and different approaches to most things. The two didn’t necessarily match. I’m not saying one way is or was better than the other. We just had different ideas.

I don’t believe it was Sandra’s intention to have such a significant footprint in my department, but she did what she thought was right.  After all, she was in charge.

By the spring of 2015 it was becoming clear to me that I was no longer a good fit for UCI. I was half way through my third year and I was absolutely miserable. I felt like was no longer effective and I lost my joy.

My joy was gone. So was my confidence.

As I look back, another contributing factor to my lack of joy was my absence from Apra. I did not attend an Apra conference in 2013, 2014 or 2015. Make no mistake about it, this was a big deal. It was as if I had gone into a cave for 3 years.

Apra has always been a part of my story and the 3 years I spent away from my tribe hurt me on many levels. I feed off the time I spend with my friends and colleagues. I need that level of engagement with my people. It energizes me. It inspires me. It motivates me and quite simply – it brings me joy.

During those 3 years, I also missed most of everything CARA had to offer. I could never make or take the time to participate. I sent my staff instead not only to CARA events, but also to Apra. 

It was a huge mistake. I love both CARA and Apra and I’ve benefited greatly from both and given much of myself to each of them. Of the two, Apra means the most to me. That shouldn’t diminish the importance of CARA, but Apra is where ALL of the leaders, innovators and catalyst gather. This is where all of the people I want to be around come together including the people I interact with at CARA. With Apra, I always have the best of both worlds.

Not having Apra in my life during those three years was simply awful. Being disconnected from my tribe was the worst thing.

In the past four years (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019), I’ve only missed one Apra conference. Professional development is just too important to me on so many levels. It’s where I learn and continue to grow. It’s where I get to explore new ideas and learn about new innovations. It’s where I get fed intellectually and where I get to do one of the things I love to do the most and that’s engage with others. It’s where I connect the dots. It’s where I get to be myself and know that my friends and colleagues will accept me just as I am.

In April of 2015, I decided it was time to start looking for a new opportunity. When you get to a point where you no longer consider the cause or why you signed up for the job you have, it’s time to move on.

UCI just wasn’t a good fit and I couldn’t see myself staying there, long term. It had been a year since my mom’s passing and working in Irvine was no longer a contributing factor for me. Where I physically worked was less relevant now.

Looking back so much had happened in my three years. We took delivery of two predictive modeling and wealth screening projects. We overhauled all of the development officers’ portfolios. We developed a new prospect management and campus wide solicitation clearance process. We added Reeher and trained fundraisers on this as well.

In addition to the things I mentioned previously, we also upgrade our Ellucian database and trained fundraisers in the new platform.  We implemented a survey and qualification system from the Tom Garrow Company for our development officers and we brought our IT/Data team under the umbrella of development when they had previously been separate.

On top of all that, I added five new members to my team (while losing two). Four new assistant vice chancellors were hired (including Brian Hervey who would eventually become the vice chancellor, replacing Gregory), and we changed presidents.

A lot took place and it all had an impact. Again, in April of 2015 – I began to contemplate leaving.

It was during this time that I learned that my longtime friend and colleague Suzanne Szalay was retiring from her position as Assistant VP of Development Research at Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles (CHLA). The timing seemed perfect.

I began to wonder if I could follow in Suzanne’s footsteps like I had at COH and I decided to apply for the position she was leaving.

I really wanted this job. I saw it as my opportunity to escape UCI and re-establish myself in an arena, I felt comfortable in – healthcare. I interviewed with Melissa Do Vale, who was the Associate VP of Major and Planned Gifts. As I went through the process, I believed everything was lining up and that this would be the move I was destined to make.

I had a follow up interview with various members of the team and was told I was one of 3 final candidates. I had no idea who the others were, but felt confident in my experience and in the interviews I had.

Then that thing happened that we all hate. Radio silence.

Every recruitment process has a rhythm to it. Things progress at a certain pace and you start to expect things to happen in a certain time frame and when they don’t – you start to wonder. I became concerned.

You have to keep in mind that in the previous 15 years, I had only applied for one job and that was the one at UCI.

I reached out to Melissa for an update and I didn’t hear back right away. I eventually got the reply I didn’t want to hear. I would learn CHLA would hire Aimee Fitzgerald from USC. Melissa didn’t tell me the name, but I would find out soon after.

When I learned who got the job, my initial reaction was “of course.” Aimee is a dynamo. She’s one of the smartest prospect development people I know. She has done amazing work and has an impeccable reputation. I have always admired and respected her a great deal. It was no surprise to me that CHLA decided to hire her.

Ironically, Aimee would only stay at CHLA for a year and 3 months and then head back east to William & Mary where she serves as the Executive Director of Prospect Development and Information Strategy.

I continue to admire and respect her work. Just last year, we exchanged notes on a vendor I was investigating that she had done some work with.

Although I understood CHLA’s choice, I was disappointed. I really had it in my head that I was going to get this job. I felt it was the path that God was laying out for me, but in the long run – I would learn he had other plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11).

Life goes on with or without us, right?

Suzanne’s retirement called for a celebration. A group of us gathered one weekend afternoon for lunch to celebrate her retirement. It was a group that included many longtime friends and colleagues like Michael Seymour, Dori, Joan Reiss, Shirley Gottschalk, Marsha Kraus, Dennis Petticofer, Aimee and others.

I don’t think any of them knew about my application for the position. I imagine if any of them are reading this now, it might come as a surprise. Then again, I imagine any number of things they are reading here are a surprise.

One note about the CHLA recruitment process before I move on. During either my first or second interview, I ran into one of the members of Suzanne’s team while waiting. It was a bit awkward. He asked if I had applied for the position and I acknowledged that I had. He wished me luck and said he hoped I would get the role.

I note that, because that was always my fear when I interviewed people at COH. I always made it a point to conduct interviews where the chance of someone from my team seeing a candidate was remote. I didn’t even involve my team in the interview process at all. I wanted to protect my candidates so they would never have that awkward moment.

Back to the story…

It’s funny – while at COH, I often watched with curiosity when my colleagues moved from one position/organization to another, some more frequently than others. I always kept track of their comings and goings and always felt fortunate that I was at a place where I could put down some roots and call “home.” It’s ironic because since 2012, I’ve worked at 3 different nonprofits. It wasn’t what I had envisioned for myself.

The prospect development world is a small one. We know each other well and not a lot happens without our noticing. We often wonder what is behind certain moves, but we don’t often ask or learn the story behind such things and there is always a story.

That’s one of the reasons I wanted to write this. I’ve been told that some people have wondered about my career path.

As April turned to May in 2015 – I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. I wasn’t accustomed to not getting a job I applied for. I’m not trying to be arrogant here, it was just my actual experience up to that point in my career.

As I surveyed the landscape, I didn’t see a path I could take. As I said in a previous post, there aren’t a lot of Sr. Director or higher positions in Prospect Development in and around the greater Los Angeles area.

I decided it was time to switch gears and take a different path and after some serious thought and contemplation, I decided I wanted to try and transition into a major gift role.

I had every confidence that I could handle the role. Having worked with more than a hundred fundraisers in the course of my career, gave me a front row seat to learn how to do things the right way. Let’s just say, I could write a book about this very topic.

That being said, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I had been in my specific lane for more than 20 years at the time. That fact would prove to be both a blessing and a curse for me. I would soon learn, hiring managers were intrigued by my background and experience, but most were reluctant to make the leap and trust that I could make that transition. It probably would have been easier to do at an earlier point in my career, but I had never considered it until this point in time.

You’ve probably heard that looking for a full-time job can be a full-time job. It’s true and I knew if I was going to make this transition, I needed to devote all of my time and energy to the process. There was no possible way I could look for another job and still try to do my work at UCI. I tried that for a month or so and it was too hard to manage.

In June of 2015, I took a leave of absence to focus on this endeavor. As I embarked on my new journey, I knew I would never return to my position at UCI and in July of 2015, I resign from my position.

I was all in.

For the next three months, I pursued the goal of becoming a major gift officer and I attacked that goal with a vengeance. I had a plan and I organized my thoughts and my days around that pursuit. I was determined. I was confident. I threw myself into the effort with everything I had.

The one thing I had going for me was my ability to write. I put that to work in the form of cover letters and those letters opened a lot of doors for me.

I approached each opportunity with a bit of a disruptive force. I positioned myself as someone who knew and understood not only fundraising, but fundraisers. I was confident that I could do the work I had supported for more than 20 years. Each time, I made a point of talking about how hard it was to find truly good fundraisers and how so many of them just didn’t like asking for money.

I asked hiring managers to think outside the box.

I let it be known I was approaching each opportunity with my eyes wide open. I had confidence in my abilities and a “no fear” attitude. I wanted hiring managers to understand I would do whatever it took to be successful as a major gift officer.

Simultaneously, I leveraged my professional and personal network like never before. I would spend 5-6 hours every day (sometimes more) in pursuit of my goal. I spent hours on LinkedIn and on the job sites of multiple nonprofit organizations. I was on a mission and I put in the work.

I look back at this period of my life as a time of serious growth. The experience of going through an intensive job search with a change in career path was a blessing in many ways. I did some things I wasn’t necessarily comfortable doing and I pushed myself. I put myself out there. I was my own advocate. I fought for what I wanted to do. It got me out in front of people and allowed me to engage with new people.

Many of those individuals are people I continue to have relationships with today – even in those cases where I didn’t land a job. Every interview process served a second purpose and that was to build and expand my network. It was hard work, but I felt a sense of accomplishment throughout the process. I grew as a person and I gained new perspective.

I learned. I networked. I gained valuable experience. I grew.

More to come…