You may be one of the many that experience a specific type of anxiety in the Fall. It’s the season that we associate with school and, sadly, a lot of us react negatively to learning because it induces a fear of failure. It’s seldom failure about that dreaded F grade. More frequently, it’s that less tangible measure of, often unreasonable, expectations that we’ve practiced piling upon ourselves since childhood.
Now you’re a fundraiser and understand the importance of investing in yourself through ongoing professional education. Fall presents many opportunities including the Jupiter of them all, the AFP Greater Toronto Congress. Here follows some advice about shedding your anxiety about learning, about unburdening yourself of the pass/fail measure, and just having fun. Yes, fun!
I’ve had the privilege of participating in the design of Congress curriculum on a number of occasions. It’s an overwhelming process because there are so many great workshop ideas and so many volunteers willing to take on the challenge of teaching. This tsunami of ideas can threaten to drown us, but it’s also exhilarating to see just how dynamic our profession is, and how many brilliant people are constantly asking themselves this fundamental question: can we be better?
Ours is a rapidly evolving body of knowledge and what constitutes best practice is continuously being updated. It’s something that I’m keenly aware of in my role as Coordinator of Humber’s Fundraising Management program. We are preparing people to enter a profession by teaching them a mix of what worked in the past and what seems to be working today. But more importantly, we are are keenly aware that our greater task is to help students develop the resiliency to adapt to what will surely be a roller coaster ride of a career.
To say that it’s all a bit daunting is outrageous understatement. So let’s step back and have a calming moment. Professional education shouldn’t be an anxiety-laden burden that leaves us breathlessly scribbling notes in the vain hope of remembering every last detail of what we’re hearing. Instead, it should be an enjoyable exercise that stimulates our curiosity, enlivens our intellect, and gives us permission to dream.
Yes, of course, teachers and workshop leaders have a responsibility to deliver content in ways that accomplish these objectives. But as students, we must accept equal responsibility for participating with an open, curious mind, a determination to focus, and a willingness to stray out of the restricted confines of our current situations.
Too often I hear people say that they learned nothing at a workshop. And when you press them for details about that experience, they betray a close-minded, chip-on-the-shoulder attitude. “I can’t relate to major gifts of five million dollars. My organization’s entire budget is half of that. So I just tuned out when she started talking about about cultivating major donors. It was useless to me.” To quote that great teacher Yoda: “clear your mind must be….patience you must have.”
Everything is scalable.
Everything. It’s not the teacher’s responsibility to design curriculum that precisely matches every individual student’s exact level of experience and perfectly solves each individual challenge. Students must continuously ask themselves “how does this information relate to my situation” and “what one idea can I glean from the teacher’s experience that can help me now or in the future?” Be curious. Take delight in solving the puzzle rather than shutting down the moment you find information challenging or seemingly irrelevant. Your mind, like your body, is happiest when it is active. Professional education is the fuel that sustains this activity. Don’t starve yourself.
Learning requires focus. A couple of weeks ago, Toronto residents were outraged by video showing a transit worker texting while bus driving. We instinctively understand that it’s not possible to pay full attention to both. Yet we think it perfectly fine to monitor our email, our texts, and even Facebook during workshops. Perhaps Congress organizers should post video of delegates texting during workshops so your donors and volunteers can become just as outraged as those transit riders?
At events like Congress, you have the opportunity to gorge, to flood your mind with the fuel of creativity. Kick down the “not relevant to me” and the “my situation is unlike any other” barriers and just allow yourself to enjoy the freedom of learning. You will find some unusual things happen. First, your anxiety level drops considerably if you approach learning with one simple goal: to find one idea that sparks your imagination. Next, you’ll discover that your brain – now happily absorbing fuel – sends out endorphins to your body, making you feel energized. Finally, your subconscious will surprise you later by bringing back something that – at the time – didn’t register fully, but now seems like a wonderful solution to a nagging problem.
So, give yourself permission to forget the pass/fail standard and to revel in adult education where you have complete control over what you will learn. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld: the cool thing about being an adult is that you can, if you wish, spoil your dinner by eating cookies first.
Denny Young is a Professor at Humber College, and Coordinator of its prestigious Fundraising Management Postgraduate Certificate program. He has been in the profession for over 25 years and shown exemplary leadership as an executive, educator and mentor. His experience includes senior fundraising and communications roles in a number of sectors including health, social service, and the arts.
Denny has a Masters degree in Philanthropy and Development from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, has completed the Ivey School of Business Executive Program, and has a certificate in the Foundations of Coaching from the Adler Graduate Professional School. He is also a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE).