Development Work, regardless of your area of focus, is all about planting seeds.
My friends Rosalie and Jason gave me the best advice when I started my business full-time last fall. They said, “if you plant at least one seed a day, you will never have to worry about having enough work to do.”
This could not have been more true. As I look back on my years as a staff person, development director and volunteer, I see that this concept is really how I was successful at all of my jobs over the years.
Let’s take my garden for example. These are actual pictures of my garden that I took just his morning. Leo of course wanted to get in on the camera action, because as those of you who know him know, he is a ham.
Can you tell the difference in the maturity of my two tomato plants? One will certainly produce fruit before the other.
If you look at my potted herbs, you will notice are all coming in at different stages, because I spaced out the planting times.
Not that anyone could tell, but this is ‘suppose’ to be 2 rows of cilantro. Obviously I have not tended this as much as others in my garden.
The cilantro is planted next to some sweet potatoes. I have spent a little more time with weeding them, but not as much as they need.
Now we get to the big garden! As you can see…hardly any weeds. These will be the ‘bigger’ crops of corn, squash, cukes and tomatoes.
Timing is everything.
Thinking ahead to what could just be a started seed today, could produce fruit that will feed me all summer and allow me to can, freeze or dry things for the fall and winter.
Gardens are one simple way to illustrate the benefit of planning ahead, planting seeds and working the soil. How does that translate into development work you must be asking. Well, development is really about planning. It is very hard to have a successful development department without a plan. A development plan, an organizational strategic plan, and someone who can implement those and create the desired outcomes.
If I spend more time in my ‘big garden’ I might expect bigger and better produce from it. If I neglect my cilantro and sweet potatoes, I might not get a much from them. Same with development work. If you spend all your time with major donors, your annual campaign might suffer. If you focus too long on grants, will your planned giving ever prosper and so forth. You have to tend to everything and keep it growing. Part of that is setting priorities. I knew I wanted my tomatoes to come in first (because I love eating them as early and as long as possible). So, I planted a lot of them, planted them early and spaced them out so I could enjoy them the entire summer and fall.
As a development director I always thought about who I needed to meet, who I needed to say thank-you to, a way I could build a relationship, someone who I could extend a favor to or help with a program or project. I spent time researching foundations and learning about potential donors, new businesses that were coming to town, business that were leaving town and attending events for other nonprofits and county/city agencies.
All of these things were seeds I was planting, I just didn’t think about it at the time. It seemed like a good idea to build relationships, because as we all know, successful fundraising is all about relationship building. But the other things just seemed like legwork I needed to be doing so I would be informed, people would get to know me, I could learn about others and then, in the future, there might be an opportunity to partner, collaborate, support or be supported.
The same goes for my work as a consultant. I am always meeting new people, calling and introducing myself, offering my services, presenting in new places, asking to be invited to speak, offering advice to those who ask and sharing what I know and taking it upon myself to follow up with people. I never know when the seeds will sprout, but I’m sure planting them all the time.
Just this week I had a lady contact me that I met a few months ago and she wanted to offer me an opportunity to help her organization. A fella I met back in October reached out last month and the list goes on. You can’t expect wonders to happen overnight, even though there are times that they do! So, start planting some seeds and be intentional about it. You will eventually start to see the fruits of your labor in the form of partners, collaborators, donors, volunteers, opportunities and more!
Remember, you have to make some of your own opportunities and that starts with you being proactive. Don’t expect major donors, businesses, foundations, partnership or volunteers to come jump in your lap… you have to work for it. So, go plants some seeds!