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Friday, February 26, 2021
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It is often said that the gabbai in the shul has the most thankless job. He can never win. If he doesn’t give someone an aliya, or doesn’t call upon someone to lead services, or doesn’t remember a yahrzeit, it’s because he wasn’t doing his job. He rarely gets thanked for the grief he endures and yet, amazingly, most shuls have gabbaim with masochistic tendencies who, despite the agony, still volunteer and conscientiously do their job every day.

Mike Rowe is a television commentator and author who hosts shows on Facebook. He recently blasted politicians who deemed certain workers as “essential” and others as “nonessential.” This issue has come up in the current debate about lockdowns and whether certain businesses should be allowed to remain open or stay closed during the surge in COVID-19 cases. Much discussion proliferates about whether their workers should be considered essential. Rowe estimates that politicians have declared 40 million Americans as nonessential. Talk about people having a thankless job!

I raise this issue because many development professionals have long felt that their job is a thankless one. Many feel taken for granted while others are bothered by a lack of appreciation from their employer or board members. Welcome to the real world. The same can be said for many in other industries, such as the so-called nonessential worker. Or, how about one’s spouse? Uh-oh.

Do you feel taken for granted in your job? Do you feel underappreciated? Yes, this case can be made for many folks, so development professionals shouldn’t feel unique to this club.

In February of last year I was elected as president of my homeowners association in Florida. It’s too long to explain how I found myself in this position; perhaps some other time. But, talk about a thankless job! It is a volunteer position, but you wouldn’t know it from the work it entails. It is a full-time job and is the equivalent of being the CEO of a nonprofit organization. In fact, our bylaws equate the president to a CEO. Nonetheless, it is a thankless job. But enough about me.

Having been in the development industry for decades, I understand why development professionals feel this way. It’s quite simple. Development professionals’ philosophy should be to avoid narcissism and claiming credit for their success. They ought to regularly ascribe recognition to lay leaders who might not have put in even a fraction of the time or work required to achieve success. But the volunteer’s title of chairman or co-chairman still adorns the fundraising invitation. That’s like writing a story for a newspaper or magazine and conferring the byline to the editor.

Development professionals often are immersed in myriad activities depending, of course, on the size, budget and needs of their nonprofit. For instance, when planning an event, they might secure sponsors, organize the committee, choose the event site, prepare and mail invitations, hire the caterer, coordinate the entertainment … and the list goes on. That’s the professional’s job. Yes, all of this, and then some, is often taken for granted by lay leaders; and sometimes even the professional’s supervisor lacks appreciation. But that’s the job. And it is often a thankless one.

One of my mentors once told me that part of my salary was getting paid for pain and anguish. I always took his opinion in stride. We also were taught that accolades were only for the lay leaders regardless of how much they involved themselves in the project. Remember this, development professional. If you want to motivate—sincerely motivate—lay leadership to be an integral member of your team, then be generous with your appreciation and compliments. To put it bluntly, that’s how it works.

So if you are in it because of the glory or because you want everyone to know that the nonprofit’s fundraising success is due to your shining brilliance, then you are in the wrong business. Spread the wealth, and the wealth of success will reflect back on you. Otherwise, you may not be as indispensable as you think.

There is a saying, “That’s the problem with putting others first; you’ve taught them you come second.” As one media celebrity likes to say, “Now, thank me!”


Norman B. Gildin has fundraised for nonprofits for more than three decades and raised upwards of $93 million in the process. Formerly a Teaneck resident for 34 years, he is the president of Strategic Fundraising Group, whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits raise critical funds. He can be reached at [email protected]

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