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Mari Lane Gewecke

About Mari

Summer Musings on Consulting

About the time I wonder whatever possessed me to be a consultant, something happens to remind me why. This is precisely what transpired during a weekend board retreat in a small Nebraska town.

Now, I really must set the stage for you to fully appreciate the experience.

By "small," I am referring to a hamlet with a population of fewer than 500 people. The retreat was in the local hotel. Built as a WPA project during the Depression, and having had little or no renovation since that time, the accommodations were quite primitive, at least from my rather pampered traveler point of view.

The door to my room required a skeleton key and you used that key to lock the door from either side. There was a little sink in the room and a shared toilet and tub between my room and the next one. The skeleton key was needed if you wanted to lock the door to the shared bathroom to avoid uninvited visits from your neighbor. A shower was located down the hall.

Radiated heat provided warmth for the rooms in the hotel. There were no options for cooling, save perhaps an open window and a floor fan. My bed frame had wire springs, ostensibly eliminating any need for box springs under the mattress. It was most assuredly an original bed from the hotel’s opening in the 1930s.

It probably goes without saying that there was neither a telephone nor a television in the room. But, the piece de la resistance was that the place was crawling with box elder bugs. I killed 30 or 40 of them before I gave up in the hopeless realization that more of the insects were appearing all the time.

At 10 p.m., I sat alone in that room and realized that to many, many people these would be pretty nice digs. A sobering thought and a reminder of how lucky I have been in my life.

So, what does this have to do with consulting?

Over the course of the two days I spent in this place, I was inspired and reinvigorated by eighteen men and women who came together to learn about fundraising and to plan for how their statewide organization can raise the money it needs to keep going.

This was an amazing group of people. They were kind of a mix of typical farmer-types, much like my own father-in-law, and Dharma's parents on the TV show Dharma & Greg. All of the participants dove into each of the retreat activities with gusto.

My charge for the two days was to provide them with training on fundraising and then to help them put together a fund development plan and the rough outline of a case statement. I was impressed at how quickly they learned the basics of fundraising. It seemed to come more naturally to them than it does to the urban business/banker/lawyer folks I often work with on other boards. They immediately picked up on fundraising terminology and used it throughout our time together. I've never heard so many people find a way to use the word "stewardship" in a sentence, outside of a church group!

Our last formal activity of the two days was a role-play session of "making the ask" and six groups of three people were really getting into it. Two of their number even were so bold as to solicit me! I agreed to donate, of course.

Why was this so easy for them? These are people who are good stewards of our land. They know about cultivation, and because they work together so well, they know a lot about developing relationships. It was a cakewalk for them to translate what they do as a matter of daily function to this new world of fundraising.

It was truly a remarkable experience, although I could have done without that box elder bug on my forehead in the middle of the night.

Fare well, and farewell for this week ...

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