noun: development

  1. 1.
  2. the process of developing or being developed. “she traces the development of the novel
  3. A specified state of growth or advancement. “the wings attain their full development several hours after birth”

I took my youngest son with me to see the closing night’s performance of Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s “It’s Christmas, Carol!” It’s a tremendous accomplishment, that show-fun, funny, punny, raucous, beautifully produced and given that Covid19 has been terrorizing all of us, a miracle that we got the show up with no illness related cancellations. I say “we” as if I had anything to do with it, which I didn’t, but I work at OSF in their Development Department, and so I feel like I can claim a tiny bit of “we-ness.”

I was at the theater for closing, and also to greet some of our wonderful donors who had gathered to say goodbye to the show. My son, a very good-natured kid, followed me about as I said hello, chatted, greeted, and hugged the philanthropic folks who help make OSF possible.

“Is that your main job?” he asked me? “Talking to people?”

And in that moment, I realized that even though my son has lived with me his whole life (not to mention being housebound with us for the past two years) and he really didn’t know the general or the specific about my job. Which is not surprising, because parents are boring.

But then I was thinking…Who else doesn’t know? I was looking over all my medium posts and there is a dearth of data about me. I mean, there is a lot of information about me, in an oblique way, mostly because the posts are drawn from other blogging platforms. I admit I haven’t done the most stellar job of “establishing my brand.” I’m in the process of re-developing that. Which made me think about the word development, which is in fact what I do.

I develop. Like a Polaroid, if you remember those.

I’m a community builder, a producer, a mentor and coach, and a matchmaker of sorts. I’ve had two working lives; one would best be described as an avocation (which always seems a little humbling since it’s been so important to me but it’s never really paid me much) and a vocation.

The avocation has been theater and storytelling production. Soup to nuts, building sets, acting, creating costumes, stage managing, raising funds, selling tickets, writing pieces and scripts. Sometimes this has been film-focused, but primary stagecraft. It’s been a passion since I was young, what I got my first degree in, how I’ve spent the majority of my evenings and weekends and has given me unimaginable pleasure. Producing especially has meant that I have witness and created space for artists to grow in their craft. That’s a huge honor.

The vocation (the one that pays the bills and has turned into a career) has been fundraising, development more specifically, and helping organizations reach huge goals. Also a great honor.

What’s the difference between fundraising and development? That’s probably a longer post for another time, but in essence for me at least, it’s the difference between transactions and transformations. I started in non-profit fundraising, doing cold calls and membership renewals for theaters in Seattle. Very transactional, this for that, small gifts, yearly tickets. After a short stint with admissions (which in a sense had a strong development connection as tuition helps universities run), I started working in a formal development office learning about a wide variety of philanthropic models-volunteering, board service, annual gifts, major gifts, legacy giving.

I moved up the ladder pretty quickly, and wound up doing some amazing student philanthropy work at the University of Texas, and then a lovely Women’s Center, Southern Oregon PBS and now Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Development means, well…developing. Taking a relationship from start to finish, small gift to transformational one. Helping a donor see real change happen through the use of their resources, and helping an organization create real change through those relationships.

Philanthropy has an interesting (and often fraught) history in the United States. There is a lot to unpack especially about capitalism, community, and anti-racism (another long conversation for another post), but all development professionals should be having them as we can do this work more equitably, ethically, and sustainably.

I develop, I advance, I build. I help people. I love theater and the arts and media and helping people get where they want to go. And yes, I talk to people (and more importantly, listen).

After the show, my son and I talked a lot about my work and why I do it, all the things it contains, both good and difficult. He asked a lot of questions, listened well, offered interesting insights, and made me think about how to deepen the work. I felt like he was helping me develop my developing development.

Finally, after our conversation, he said, “I think I could do that job.” I bet he could.



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