I began working in the affordable housing field in between semesters at graduate school during the summer of 1967. It was a position working with the Catholic Charities in Toledo, Ohio.
My second job, three years later, was as the executive director of an organization that helped migrant farm workers get year-round housing and land jobs.
In both roles, and in my first 15 years at HAC, my work was all about programs and serving people’s needs. It provided a direct connection with the clients which I truly enjoyed.
Since the early 1990’s my job has become more and more about raising money. That is when I started to realize that I had to spend more time and more mental energy on making budgets work and fundraising.
I have spoken with other non-profit directors who complain that they can no longer do the work they love for multiple reasons, fundraising being at the top of the list. I have long since gotten used to that idea while still being able to get involved in program-quality issues and ways to conduct hands-on work to help specific individuals.
This fundraising responsibility has increased while state and federal funding has declined, not keeping up with the increased cost of doing business. The result has been lower salaries for employees who spend less time working face-to-face with clients.
And in a society where electronic communication – cell phones, tablets and computers – attracts more of our attention we are less apt to have direct relationships with people in our programs.
Our work lives are also more data driven than ever, but there is a cost (in money and time) to managing that information. Of course data is imperative to the work we do at HAC and in many cases a requirement, but non-profits historically struggle with doing it well – the proper funding is imperative for not only good data collection, but the proper follow-up and evaluation.
What is occurring in the non-profit world is a shift in the way organizations do business. More time is spent meeting with current and prospective donors and collecting data. That leaves fewer hours spent on developing relationships with those who matter the most: clients.
As I spend my final working years at HAC I am doing my best to balance this dichotomy. On one side I want to ensure that this organization’s long-term financial viability is sustainable by working hard to manage our assets better, raising more public and private money and targeting areas where we need to improve the quality of our programs.
On the other side I am cognizant of why I originally followed this career path – I want to find ways to help people, especially those most in need.
At HAC we have always placed a priority on those people and getting to know them more than simply as a statistic. While important, data can never replace the value of direct face-to-face relationships. The experiences we gain through those relationships are the most valuable tools we can bring to our work at HAC.