From 1988 until 1996, I was hospitalized over 60 times with life-threatening, agonizingly painful ulcers.
Through that period, I spent over 137 days in the hospital. I sat in my hospital bed, trying my best to get back on my feet, to meet everything life was throwing at me and be a colleague and friend who still had the energy to be nice, to pay attention to others, and collapse in on my own struggles.
All of that chronic illness culminated in the emergency removal of my large intestine. They constructed a new one from a portion of my small intestine.
Did all of this make me a stronger person? Possibly.
Did it make me someone who is open to the struggles of others? Possibly.
But should I say it makes me a better fundraiser? Probably not.
Why am I telling you this?
We live in an age of emotional projection, where our personal narratives play out in real time through social media. Whatever we experience in our lives is immediately nestled into a public narrative. It’s passed out as a parable in the belief that it can inform our professional practice in fundraising.
I believe these experiences are not as useful as we think they might be for us as professionals.
Does a neurosurgeon talk about her struggles with alcoholism as a tool to make her surgical skills more expert? I don’t think so.
It’s only practice that makes perfect in our profession. It’s learning from failure and success. It’s looking at the numbers. It’s working with people. It’s understanding human nature in a professional sense.
Our personal narratives can help us understand how to identify stories that might be useful to use in fundraising. Our own stories make us better able to see the value of a story that encapsulates the mission and mandate of a non-profit organization.
But does my 137 days of pain in a hospital offer up a professional advantage? No.
It might make me a better person having come through it all with a positive attitude, but not a better fundraiser. Those are two separate things.
Our personal experience makes us more empathetic. But fundraising is still a mechanical, repetitive process. We have to practice over and over to become a better fundraiser.