Do Not Lose Sight of What Matters Most

| by Bert Armstrong

I recently reconnected with a very close childhood friend for a long overdue catch-up conversation. Things started out with the standard check-ins about kids, jobs, and who else in our friend group we had seen lately. But as the conversation went on, we moved into deeper, more important stories about big happenings in our lives. Some stories were inspiring and hopeful. Others were painful and sad. Through all of it, I couldn’t help but feel this immediate nostalgic bond with my friend bubbling up, feeling like it was just yesterday that we were as close as friends could be. In actuality, it has been over three decades since we last spent any meaningful time together. 

I found myself wondering how it was that our only memories together were of building forts in the woods, playing basketball in the driveway, football in the field by the Johnson’s house, or double dating with young ladies from our rival high school. Why didn’t our history include lighting up a cigar celebrating the births of our children, roasting each other at our 50th birthday parties, or comforting each other through the pain and loss of loved ones?

How did this disconnect happen?

The easy answer is that life just got in the way. We had each let the frenzied days of raising families, building careers, and keeping pace with an ever-changing, faster way of life take over. The urgency of our days left too little time or energy to keep connected to the people and things that were so important, but no longer right in front of us. I regret that a lot.

The pandemic has shown all of us how unexpected and overwhelming change can disconnect us from what were once considered important activities and special people. It permeates the personal as well as the professional parts of our lives:

  • At a team meeting earlier this week I realized I was physically present with a co-worker for the first time in 15 months. Hugs and smiles were the order of the day.
  • My son started a new job near the start of last year’s shutdowns and still has not set foot into his office space or met in-person with anyone from his company. So much for that “welcome to the team” spirit.
  • My daughter has elected to finish most of her college courses online, in part because so many of her classmates scattered when the campus was shut down. I worry it will leave an asterisk on her book of college memories.
  • Our family has missed our church family and that special feeling of being together in worship, especially during Christmas and Easter. I even miss putting my gift in the offering plate each Sunday.
  • We have all felt what it is like to not be present at weddings, birthdays, graduations, funerals, and memorial services for loved ones that were postponed, cancelled, or never planned. It makes it hard to celebrate, mourn, let go, or move on when all you can do is read the announcement and look at the pictures in the privacy of your living room.

In my day job, I have watched as many nonprofits pivoted to virtual galas, newsletters, email appeals, and phone calls to raise money from donors during the pandemic. Many have seen great success with these efforts due largely to the strong relationships built over many years with donors who were willing and able to step up in big ways in a time of need. Others struggled as they realized that their donor relationships were nonexistent, or too shallow to generate interest when they were needed the most.  As we emerge from the pandemic, I worry for the nonprofits whose leaders remain stuck in a scarcity mentality and choose not to invest time and money in the effective donor engagement activities necessary to create and solidify the bonds with their donors. It will be important for them to make meaningful commitments to the relationship-building work that links prospective donors to the impact your organizations have on the causes they care about. 

Vacation season is here. Enjoy your time away, and let it be a good break from the stress and hecticness life throws at you. But keep in mind that some aspects of our lives have been on break long enough – maybe too long. Therefore, Zoom calls in our pajamas are no longer good substitutes for live events and celebrations, ballgames, concerts, worship services, hugs and handshakes, and special moments shared face-to-face with friends, family, colleagues, and supporters – maybe over warm cups of coffee. These are the things that tie us together and matter the most.

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