We Are Bridge Builders for the Future
As I was leaving a position in which I directed at least 10 capital campaigns that changed the landscape of the institution over the course of 16 years, a board member shook my hand and handed me a piece of paper. He then walked away, and I have never seen him since that day. The paper consisted of a poem titled “The Bridge Builder” by Will Allen Dromgoole, which read:
An old man, traveling a lone highway,
Came at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream held no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old Man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You’re wasting your time in building here;
Your journey will end with the closing day;
You never again will pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm deep and wide—
Why build you this bridge at eventide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
“There followeth after me today,
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This stream, which has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim,
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.”
We tirelessly work at our jobs each day, which, in some cases, adds up to years. Most of us never have a chance to smell the roses or think about the impact we make upon our institutions. Whether it is through programs, services, endowments, bricks or mortar, seed moneys for new programs, charity care, or other means, we provide a base for future support. Have you ever thought about the impact you make on the institution you serve?
Be proud of what you do as others notice the impact you make. We are all bridge builders who build upon the foundation laid before us. You do not have to have gray hair to reflect. As you leave each job, think about what you have built. Hand the keys to your replacement knowing the institution is in better shape than when you began your tenure. It is now that individual’s turn at the helm, and he or she must accept the awaiting challenges.
As I have stated many times, work in silence and be humble. Even if others notice the fine job you are doing, do not expect to be acknowledged for your tenure. It is the nature of people in our profession that we do the best we can each day without fanfare. Our job as staff is to make administration, volunteers, board members and others shine while we watch in the shadows. I was a football referee years ago and I wasn’t noticed until I made a bad call. Then everyone noticed me.
Keep building bridges for those next in line. It will be their turn to build their bridges before you know it.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at email@example.com or 317-224-1029.