Personal Reflection on a Recent Speaking Engagement

I just got back from attending the fall conference for LeadingAge Indiana. I had been very excited to present Cultivating a Philanthropic Culture Within Your Aging Services Organization (ASO) because I have experience first hand how implementing basic development strategies can be quite fruitful for the ASO client with whom I’m working. This is a topic that is truly near and dear to my heart – it is something that I can just go on-and-on about, and I had created this presentation to introduce it to others and truly be interactive.

The conference was an intense two-day conference, with the first day focusing on major issues facing aging services: compliance, and recruitment and retention of staff. The day concluded with a networking reception. I was not able to attend the sessions during the first day, but I did arrive for the networking reception. As some of you might know, I am an introvert and I don’t like putting myself in unfamiliar situations. I definitely don’t like approaching strangers and going through the always-awkward introductions. However, I made myself promise that I would attend this reception and make an effort to network among the attendees.

Let me tell you what I learned from this networking reception. First, that there were two types of people in attendance: the attendees of the conference (who were either CEOs, CFOs, or clinicians) and sales representatives from vendors who provide services to the attendees. The attendance make-up was not surprising and it was exactly what I had expected. What was surprising was that the vendors were social (I guess that makes sense since they are in the business of making sales), whereas the attendees were not!

The body language of the attendees was quite telling. They made their circles closed. There was no room for a newbie, like me, to even try and join the conversation. If they saw a new person approaching, they literally moved away or made their circle even tighter. Normally, I would think that I was being overly sensitive because I am such an introvert and I hate these types of social gatherings. However, I was validated in my feelings when the next day at the opening session, the keynote speaker brought this up! Whoa – it wasn’t just me experiencing this. The well-known international speaker, Duane Cummings, experienced this as well, and was calling them out on it. The funny thing is that no one in the room denied it and agreed while laughing.

To me, this is crazy. This is a room filled with individuals who are predominantly care-givers. They are responsible for taking care of our elderly population, and when they are outside of their working environment they don’t have a natural inclination to be comforting and inviting to newbies. Isn’t that odd?!

After the opening session (Duane Cummings truly rocked it), the day was focused on three breakout sessions that were divided into five different tracks: Assisted Living, Across the Continuum, Administration, Clinical, and Thrive. My presentation was in the Thrive track because these workshops focused on how to enhance resource development for ASOs. I was also scheduled in the last breakout session spot, 3:15-4:30pm. This means that anyone attending my session would be low on energy and focused on getting out of there. Also, since the attendees of this conference were CEOs, CFOs, and clinicians, I was probably going to be presenting to a room full of CFOs, which would be very interesting.

To show my support for the other two Thrive presenters, I attended their sessions. The first one was well attended; including me, there were twelve individuals. For the second session, there was only one other attendee besides myself, and she was a Director of Development. Seeing this, I had a feeling that I was going to be presenting just to one individual as well, and since I do better one-on-one, I wasn’t bummed. Happily, I did end up presenting to six individuals from three different organizations. And I was correct that their energy was low; however, I appreciated the opportunity to present to these individuals who are in finance offices. Why? Because they weren’t yet looking at philanthropy as being focused on relationships. They were solely looking at philanthropy as dollars coming in, and I was able to explain that dollars cannot come in if the entire organization isn’t committed to cultivating relationships with people in the community.

This experience solidified in my mind the need to educate entire organizations on the importance of relationship-building and making sure they understand their role in cultivating a culture of philanthropy. Returning to the networking reception, if these leaders let a person feel uncomfortable or lost at their organization, why would that individual feel inspired to make a financial investment in their organization? Every point of contact is important, and every member within an organization is responsible for cultivating these relationships. Stellar customer service is the first step in cultivating a culture of philanthropy, and every individual connected to your mission is responsible for it.

Have you taken the time to see if you are providing a stellar customer service? How are you helping to cultivate your culture of philanthropy within your organization? We all have a part to play and we need to make sure all individuals are welcomed into our community.

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