Twenty years from now, when you think back to this moment in your life, would the memory make you smile? This is the story of how, ever so slowly, without even noticing, one fundraiser lost her smile.
The hope is that sharing this story might inspire you to take stock of whether you are living a life of purpose and flow. If you are not living your very best life, what would it take to get you there?
If you have gently shifted toward a lackluster life, perhaps this tale will also inspire you to take some steps so you can emerge into a more resonant one.
This is my story.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I discovered La Leche League Canada (LLLC). LLLC is a woman-to-woman organization where moms and moms-to-be gather to support each other. The group leaders were amazing. Seemingly perfect moms who knew exactly what they were doing. I instantly wanted to be one. When I asked about it, my group Leader very diplomatically suggested I wait until I give birth and see how that goes first.
I loved the groups, the conversations, the mother-to-mother support. I became a leader as soon as I could. Over the years I helped countless new moms, facilitated hundreds of conversations, started several new groups, became a trainer, started volunteering for the national office building and running conferences.
At that time my values were crystal clear. They were:
- Staying home full time
- People before things
- Family first
- Service before self
As a single income family, renting in Toronto making less than $44,000 per year, every penny mattered. I did math while shopping for groceries. MATH! That was before we all had a calculator in our pockets. In spite of our lack of money we were rich beyond measure. I loved making bread, being part of a community, shopping at second hand stores, giving my kids pots and pans to play with and marvelling at the tiny miracles of ants coming out of cracks in the sidewalk and caterpillars turning into butterflies.
Back then I bounced out of bed every day to get a few hours of volunteer work done before the kids woke up. Eventually, I was volunteering so much the Executive Director offered me a small part time paid gig. They couldn’t pay me much but did offer me an Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) membership so I could learn how to build a fundraising program for them.
Still at home with my kids, and able to ease the grocery budget, I kept doing what I loved while I also learned how to write direct mail letters from books I ordered through inter-library loans. Literally twisting the rope as I climbed the fundraising mountain. I felt like my brain was stretching every day. I look back on those days and I smile. Sometimes I tear up a bit at the memory. It was magic.
My first ever fundraising conference I worked as a volunteer at the bookstore. Back in the late 90’s the conference was a lot smaller, but the bookstore was MASSIVE. To thank me for selling so many books the owner of the bookstore, Geoff Dean, gave me Hank Rosso’s “Achieving Excellence in Fundraising”. Geoff said that everything I needed to know about the profession was covered there. He wasn’t wrong. A few years later that book was the pillar of my studies for the Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) designation.
Eventually I was offered a role as Executive Director for another organization and when I secured my CFRE I was instantly given a raise of an additional $20,000 per year. Miraculously this stay-at-home mom had become the primary income earner for her family. I was commuting three hours a day. It was also the time that my hairdresser told me I had excessive hair loss and needed to see a doctor.
I was no longer an at home mother. We felt that since the kids were now in school full time, their Dad was home after school and I was loving my work that we were still living our values. We felt that we were still putting our family first. Just in a different way. Shift.
I fell into speaking at conferences. It wasn’t something I aspired to do. I never felt like I knew enough. I was volunteering at the time for an organization called SOFII.org. While the founder Ken Burnett sometimes bristled at my then untamed candor, he had a very generous heart and one day during a spirited debate about learning outcomes he simply said: “You are right Kimberley, I think you need to co-present this session with me at IFC*.”
I was 40 years old. Didn’t have a passport, had never left North America and my family was very dependent on my income. Going would be a massive investment for us. But when Ken Burnett invites you to co-present at an international conference in Europe there is only one answer – YES!
Having never met Ken before I was nervous. He is an extremely well-known author, most notably for his book Relationship Fundraising and is a powerhouse of fundraising in Europe and around the world. Ken suggested we do a rehearsal of our session. This was the first time I had met him in real life.
There I was, sitting there with a famous (in our sector) man, whose books I adored, at my first ever European conference doing a rehearsal of a session we were presenting that afternoon. I was so anxious. My theatre school training failed me. The rehearsal was horrible. I knew it. Ken didn’t say anything. He was very gracious. He confessed later he was worried that he’d made a mistake including me.
In her book Untamed, Glennon Doyle wrote this marvellous quote: “Maybe we are all fire wrapped in skin, trying to look cool.” That perfectly describes my entire career as a fundraiser, but in this moment it was truer than ever.
Thankfully my theatre school training eventually kicked in and our session was incredible. I can still see the packed room and Ken’s relieved smile the moment he realized that I wasn’t rubbish. In fact, I was very good.
That session led to more sessions. I travelled to India, Nepal, the United Kingdom and the United States. The International Fundraising Congress became an annual pilgrimage for many years. I was now a speaker, a thought leader, a teacher and had global connections. My world was so much bigger. Ambition seemed like a great retirement plan. Deep in my heart, I felt my family slipping away. Shift.
Now in a new job, commuting four hours a day, making more money than I ever thought I would, things started to get hard. Everything came crashing down. My husband fell in love with a person he worked with. He left. Broken-hearted, crippled by debilitating depression, feeling fat and unattractive, I became unemployed and faced losing my house.
Family first had somehow evolved to family gone. I had no idea how it happened. It was devastating. Shift.
With the help of anti-depressants, dependence on support systems, waking up every day being intentionally grateful for simple things – like breathing – and a bit of a wild time with online dating – which was super fun, I eventually found my footing.
While desperately applying for dozens of jobs that I never got. I was referred to a small piece of contract work. One referral led to another referral and so on and so on. Somehow, I had become a reluctant consultant.
I hated the thought of calling myself a consultant. In our sector consultants are notorious for overcharging, under delivering and having no impact on the overall health of the organization. There are a lot of reasons for this – but that is another post. A consultant wasn’t who I wanted to be. But there I was, incorporating a business and serving as management / fundraising / board development consultant and interim Executive Director. My business grew very quickly. All on referrals.
It wasn’t long before I was making well over six figures. Profit overcame purpose and service above self was gone. Shift. I know that for many clients they were grateful for the impact I had, and they continue to do well today. Eventually, five years of running my business and saying yes to everything that came my way things started to sour. Some of my client relationships were strained and successful outcomes were not possible for several reasons. Shift.
Crashing – Again!
What happened to my flow? How did things get so hard? My health was compromised, my reputation was at risk. I didn’t care about my work. I felt like I had become a punching bag for my clients and frankly they made me angry every day. My smile was gone. I had to stop consulting. I broke up with my clients and thought my career was over. Shift.
How you define success is a source of happiness you can control. 105 studies, 70K people globally valuing extrinsic over intrinsic goals predicts lower well-being. Fame, wealth, and beauty are bottomless pits. Pursuing growth, kindness, trust and health is the pattern for flourishing. – Adam Grant
I realized that something had gone off track. I had become lost and without purpose. Nothing seemed important to me. I wasn’t sure how to find my way back or if I should even bother. Shift.
The Way Forward
My husband 2.0 (Yes, the online dating thing worked out beautifully. Being unattractive wasn’t the problem. Nine years in and we are deliriously happy) asked me what would I do if I was working with a client that was stuck? Easy – a values exercise. He suggested that perhaps applying all that consulting talent to my own life could help? Duh!
It all came down to one powerful question, which was:
1. At the start of my career, when I was passionately bouncing out of bed to volunteer and was in constant flow what were my values?
Through that work I realized that over time my actions had diverged from my core values. The pursuit of money, profile and status was creating discord. It was so subtle I hadn’t even noticed it happening.
January 2020 was a time for me to recalibrate. To get back to a state of resonance. My actions needed to realign with my values. Which were:
- Family First
- People before things
- Purpose before profit
- Service above self
When I look back on the last 25 years, I wouldn’t change a thing. Every success and failure has led me to where I am today. I like where I am – A LOT. At 54 I consider my greying hair wisps of well-earned wisdom. I’m incredibly proud of my career and my new family. I don’t even have to do math anymore when shopping!
No longer interested in fundraising as a profession, I am far more interested in the well-being of the incredible people working in the sector.
I have blessed and released the CFRE designation I clung to for so many years. Now working as a Co-Active Coach and community builder I am back in alignment with my values. Without a doubt, when I look back on this moment I will smile. In fact, I smile all the time now.
Receiving coaching has helped me make connections, foster collaborations, find new perspectives and emerge with a new career. Being a coach helps me spread those gifts to others. It is a truly remarkable, joyful, and humbling process to be part of. This is a new calling that now provides the opportunity to use all my accumulated experience to be the coach I wish I had had so many years ago.
Being a human is hard. Life can get very complicated. Having a positive impact in the world shouldn’t have to come at the risk of compromising our health, our families or our financial freedom. The days of turning a blind eye to toxic workplaces and harmful bosses are gone.
I believe wholeheartedly that we need to elevate co-active coaching as a tool that can help our sector overcome the dysfunction, toxicity and burn out that is rampant in our sector.
We can do this. We can create a sector where family, mental and physical fitness and joyful abundant lives become the priority. If we do that, we can collectively have a greater impact on the world that needs us so desperately. I know we can do it. I witness my clients do it every single day.
So I’ll ask you one last time – if in twenty years YOU looked back on this moment of YOUR life, would the memory make YOU smile? If not – let’s get YOU there?
Kimberley MacKenzie is a burnt-out charity executive, Co-Active Coach, Founder and CEO of TheIntersectionHub.ca, Community Builder, Podcaster, Speaker, Mother of two, Stepmother to six. She currently works globally with clients on four continents, is pursuing her level 2 Ballroom dance certificate with husband 2.0 and walks her two puppies @cavapoozoe and @cvpreggie in Barrie, Ontario three times a day. You can reach her at email@example.com or @kimberleycanada.
*IFC is The International Fundraising Congress is hosted by The Resource Alliance annually in The Netherlands and is well worth the investment at least once in your career.