The Benefit of Longevity
As a senior-level executive, I wonder what the term senior means. Is it the fact that I have been in senior-level positions, or is it the fact I am getting older each year? As a legend in my own mind on the sports field, once-vivid memories seem to fade with time. Days of talking to others about my children are now filled to the brim with stories about my precious grandchildren. The cycle of career life continues to spin for all of us.
While we do not live in a perfect world, many may look at older professionals in different ways. While they may acknowledge an individual with a long tenure is one with vast expertise, they may also give a false perception that an older soldier lacks energy, dedication and focus to do the job. Years ago I asked a national consulting firm about its hiring practices and why it did not hire senior professionals. The people I talked to actually said they were looking only for very young professionals so they could train them the right way.
It's interesting to me that they thought one can be trained "the right way" with little on-the-field experience. I assume that mode of operation worked for them.
If you decide to make philanthropy a career choice, and I hope you do, be prepared to experience at least seven or more jobs in your work lifetime. The beginning jobs may last fewer than two years each as you are finding your way. The middle career tenure will last longer if only because family demands are now front and center. By the end of your career, you should have settled into your field of passion and interest with total joy. If all goes well, the last third of your career will also be the best as you reflect more than look ahead. You will relish every mentor opportunity, hoping to affect the next generation.
What is the benefit of longevity? This concept takes many forms. If you eventually settle into a city or region where you can secure positions with different organizations, it may work to your benefit. Over time you will learn the funders and needs of the community based on your organization needs. You will also have the benefit of lasting relationships. Whether you interface with board members, volunteers, former staff, donors or others, your path over time will build a book of friendships that may continue to present itself when you least expect it.
I have worked in several positions in the same large town. That said, when I leave a position I leave everything behind. I view each job experience as a work chapter in my life. I leave relationships acquired through prior employers alone unless they happen to reappear in a new position. I believe when we work for an institution we should build relationships for the organization's benefit, not ours. It helps to have a positive relationship with everyone if at all possible.
Recently a former board member of another organization that I worked for years earlier contacted me when he realized I was working for an organization that he also currently supported. He wanted to volunteer for my organization because he enjoyed our previous engagement.
In another recent visit I met a current donor who had served with me on a volunteer organization many years earlier. As a result of our past involvement, which she enjoyed, she wanted to renew this connection going forward.
I have other examples, but the point is when you have a long career you create a database of contacts, many of whom you have long since forgotten. If you're lucky, you may reconnect with people from your past and start the engagement process all over again with a fresh start.
Longevity has its benefits, so take advantage of it when it is presented to you. There is something fun about the of concept back to the future — especially when it finds you when you are not looking for 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.