Life Lessons From My Father’s Pen
As a nonprofit pro, have you ever experienced a tough week? This variable can be measured in a variety of ways. Many supervisors try to inspire and motivate performance using different methods. If you were not brought up with the correct fuel of personal behavioral factors, outside forces may not change your inner self.
My tough week centered around principles of basic respect and pride that each professional has on a daily basis in his or her job. Specifically, my tough week centered on the fact that I made several calls to constituencies that have never or will never be returned. I made a corporate contact at the request of a board member. The contact said it would be a waste of time to meet. I talked to an employee about performance and all I heard was, “I will be happy to do the minimum standards in my job.” The list goes on and on. When I experience these negative factors, I immediately think about my beloved late father, who had a Ph.D. in common sense.
He was born in West Virginia in 1921. He worked many odd jobs growing up until World War II was declared. Six days after the Pearl Harbor attack, he joined the U.S. Navy and served proudly in the Pacific Theater from 1941 to 1946. When he returned to Charleston, W.V., he married my mother and obtained a position in the U. S. Postal Service. Over the years, he rose through the ranks from sweeping floors to becoming a high-level executive supervising several hundred employees. He rarely missed a day of work, although he had health issues in the later part of his career. He never complained to anyone. He treated his employees fairly, but demanded the best performance possible. He showed respect for others and led by example. He gave 100 percent effort every day of his life. He was a servant leader and humble yet forceful in his demeanor.
My father had a great deal of common sense. You could have a serious discussion with him about any topic. That said, I only remember receiving one letter from him in my life. While a student at West Virginia University, I received the letter. It was not a long letter, but an impactful one. He had a very distinct penmanship style. I could hear his voice in each word of this letter. In my professional career, I try to live up to his letter and its meaning.
The key points from his letter were:
- Respect other people and value them. Be responsive to their needs and care about them.
- Do not worry about others’ perceptions of you. Do the right thing and lead by example.
- You will have hard times in life. How you come back from defeats will be the making of you as a man.
- Have God in your life and be concerned with keeping your body, mind and spirit healthy and positive.
- Love your city, state and country. Love the American flag and be proud that you will always live in greatest country in the world.
- Be adaptable to change and go with the flow. Learn from others and realize many do things better than you. Learn from them and strive to be the best.
- Always know that your parents and family will love and support you in your endeavors.
- People respect people who respect people—understand?
- Time and life will come and go quickly, so do your best every day.
- Your reputation is the most important thing you have—protect it.
So, when I am having a bad week on the job, I think of my father’s letter and smile. We all come from different places and times. I am old school, but my values and foundation are important to my success in my nonprofit career. Respect and communicate quickly and positively with each constituency in your orbit. Realize that not every person will be interested in meeting with you or interacting with your organization. Note that every employee is different, and seek fire and passion in the person you are hiring.
Try to find those around you who also strive to exceed expectations and are willing to make sacrifices for the greater good. Keep your reputation as positive as possible knowing you cannot control others’ perceptions of you. Give 100 percent in your job, and if you have a bad week, use the weekend to recharge your emotional batteries and get over it. Always think about your organization’s mission and the people you are ultimately serving. They need you and your organization to be there for them.
Thanks, Dad, for being my inspiration. It has served me well in my long nonprofit career.
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.