Can You Still be Donor-Centered by Putting Yourself First?

This blog post is a major thematic departure from my usual articles.

Usually, I advocate, either directly or indirectly, for fundraising that is donor centered. My book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, clearly emphasizes my belief in the importance of being donor centric.

This post, by contrast, is about you, your needs, and your happiness.

I got the idea for this post when I recently returned from delivering the keynote address at the AFP Memphis Chapter conference. (By the way, the folks there were wonderfully friendly; the food was amazing; and the sites were memorable. Memphis, home of the blues, should definitely be on your tourism bucket list.)

Anyway, I was on my Delta Airlines flight when I did something I have not done for quite some time. For some inexplicable reason, I actually listened to the pre-flight announcement. The flight attendant mentioned that if the air masks drop, each adult should put their mask on first and, then, help their child with his/her mask.

It got me thinking. To take care of others, we need to first take care of ourselves. 

I learned that lesson in 1983. Shortly after co-founding a pioneering direct response agency, I was a stressed-out frazzled mess. Thinking I really needed professional help, I went to a psychologist. At the end of the first session, the doctor asked me, “When was the last time you took a vacation?”

I responded, “My wife and I take a long weekend every so often.”

He said, “No, I mean a real vacation. When was the last time you went away for a week or more?”

I told him, “With the exception of my honeymoon, I have never taken a vacation in my adult life.”

“Well, I really wish I was videotaping this session for my students,” he said.

“Am I really that bad off?,” I asked with great concern.

“No,” he laughed. “You’re a perfect example of someone who doesn’t need therapy. What you need is a vacation. Take a week off. Better yet, take two weeks off. Don’t take any calls. Don’t bring any paperwork. Just go. When you come back, I think you’ll find you feel better. If not, then come back and see me.”

So, based on doctor’s orders, my wife and I went to a remote area of Jamaica for two weeks. For the first three days, I kept hearing the phone ring. But, it was all in my head. The nearest phone was actually 18 kilometers away from the house we rented. At the end of the first week, I was finally learning to relax. By the end of the second week, I was itching to get back despite having had a fun time.

When I returned to my office, I found I was more efficient than ever. Insurmountable problems I had left behind were easily dealt with. I felt like some kind of superhero. I was more creative, more productive. My stress level was at an all-time low. I became a convert to the idea of vacationing.

From that point forward, I’ve always been sure to take vacations and to make sure my employees also take advantage of their vacation time.

I’ve also always insisted that vacations should not include any business:

  • phone calls,
  • text messages,
  • emails,
  • paperwork.

A vacation is a time of escape, a time of decompression, a time to recharge. You simply can’t fully do that if you’re still connected to the office.

I realize that we all like to feel we’re important, indispensible. But, the reality is, if we have good colleagues and staff, our organizations can survive perfectly well without us for a week or two. If it truly can’t, that actually says a great deal about one’s own managerial deficiencies.  

You certainly don’t need to feel guilty about taking time off. The reality is, by vacationing, you’ll actually be more productive when in the office. First, leading up to your vacation, you’ll likely spend more hours at work than you usually do to ensure your desk is cleared before you go away. Second, when you come back, you’ll have more energy and creativity. Therefore, you’ll work more efficiently and productively.

Your organization will get more out of you if you vacation than if you stay chained to your office.

If you don’t believe me, that’s fine. Maybe you’ll believe one of the world’s truly great geniuses of all time. Leonardo Da Vinci wrote the following as quoted by Wayne W. Dyer in his book Wisdom of the Ages:

Every now and then go away,

have a little relaxation,

for when you come back

to your work

your judgment will be surer;

since to remain constantly at work

will cause you to lose power

of judgment…


Go some distance away

because the work appears smaller

and more of it

can be taken in at a glance,

and a lack of harmony

or proportion

is more readily seen.”

If a great artist and scientist like Da Vinci can benefit from a vacation, so can you.

There is even contemporary scientific research that supports the claims I’ve made above. According to a CNN report, “detaching from a familiar environment can help get new perspectives on everyday life, says Adam Galinsky, professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.” Galinsky added, “Not just taking time off from work, but actually getting away from where you live is really important, because that’s the only way that you can achieve that perspective.”

Other researchers have reached similar conclusions. Guide identifies several scientifically proven benefits of vacations, including:

  •  “Vacations can stave off burnout.”
  •  “Vacations can keep us healthy.”
  •  “Vacations promote overall wellbeing.”
  •  “Vacations can strengthen bonds.”
  •  “Vacations can help with your job performance.”
  •  “Vacations relieve stress in lasting ways.”

So, if you haven’t taken a vacation yet this year, start planning one. By taking care of yourself, you’ll be better able to take care of your organization, your colleagues, your staff, and your donors.

Hmmm, now that I think of it, taking care of yourself is actually a good donor-centered strategy since it will allow you to take better care of those that support your organization.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

10 Responses to “Can You Still be Donor-Centered by Putting Yourself First?”

  1. I would definitely take more vacation… if I could afford it. 😦

    • Brian, thank you for commenting. Let me just say, you need some new friends. I can’t afford to own a vacation house on the beach. Fortunately, I have friends who can. So, I’m able to have a beach-front vacation. 🙂

      Even if you can’t get away, it’s still important to take some time off. You can’t afford not to. One vacation idea for you would be to be a tourist in your own town, have a stay-cation. Or, you might consider a service such as, a volunteer-based, worldwide network connecting travelers with members of local communities, who offer free accommodation and/or travel advice. Or, you might consider house swapping with a friend or relative in another touwn.

      The important thing is to unplug from the office and change your routine periodically. You deserve it.

      Send me postcard.

  2. Brian, I agree with you. Before I went into fundraising, I was one of four project managers who put the 911 system in a major city and in conjunction with designing the Information Systems Department of their city hospital. The span of time was three years without a vacation which included being on call 24/7. During that time period – NO VACATION.

    Three historical figures helped me through that time period – Henry Ford – Albert Einstein – Thomas Edison. Each man worked long hours – with little rest. As a young man who would complain to his father that I was tired after coming home from school – BIG MISTAKE – my father went to work twice in the same day – six out of seven days, but that’s another story.

    It was my father who recommended that I read about these three men. I did. I discovered that each man took power naps throughout the day. Subsequently, they became reenergized. Within those twenty minutes they focused their mind on one thought.

    Is it easy to do – NO. Can it be accomplished – YES. It takes a great deal of determination. I spent a great deal of time practicing this method until I succeeded. Taking a vacation is much easier to do and it takes very little effort to make the decision. Over the years, I have seen a number of managers burnout, become physically ill and mentally distressed because their work comes first.

    If individuals believe they are indispensable – big mistake – they will slowly discover their contributions and effectives become less and less. If they continue to work without taking a physical and mental rest and enjoy life, their position may not be there.

    We can use many reasons we cannot take a vacation. A vacation does not necessarily mean an expensive trip. A vacation can be quiet walks, concentration on one’s hobby – if you have one – if not create one, spending time with the family. There is so much around us that work can prevent an individual from seeing the opportunities.

    Thomas Edison was asked by a reporter his secret for success – His answer, “99% perspiration, 1% inspiration.” The 1% inspiration – for all who work in today’s economic environment – TAKE A VACATION!

    • LKJD, thank you for sharing your helpful insights. I thought I would just take a moment to provide some additional information about the great men you identified.

      Albert Einstein, though a great thinker and hard worker, believed in vacations. For example, he enjoyed sailing off of Peconic on Long Island. To get away from it all, he also vacationed at Deep Creek Lake in Maryland.

      Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone were all friends. For one vacation, they went camping together in Western Maryland. Ford and Edison owned winter homes near each other in Fort Myers, Florida.

      Edison also visited another friend of his for a seashore vacation. He stayed at Woodside Villa near Winthrop, Massachusetts.

      By the way, Ford was also an early advocate for the 40 hour, five day work week. He thought it was good for his workers, good for business, and good for the nation’s economy.

      I’m guessing that each of these great men would agree with your closing line: “TAKE A VACATION!”

    • Great post, thank you!

  3. Michael, What a great post – thank you!

    This has been on my mind lately. I just realized this week that I’m way behind on using my vacation time. Throughout my professional career, I’ve always understood the importance of vacation and was careful to use it wisely. But eventually, as I’ve become caught up in the busyness of life, it’s been easy to put in on the back burner.

    Next week, I’m planning to take some time and off and currently planning a trip with my wife for in the winter. Vacation can be a time to create memories with your family, re-charge your battery, and just experience a change of pace. I also enjoy getting away for small moments of silence and meditation.

    Again, thank you for your wise words of encouragement.

    • Matthew, thanks for letting me know you enjoyed this post. You’re right. It’s very easy to get caught up in day-to-day life and forget to plan a vacation. Or, sometimes we put off planning because we’re waiting for a “good time” to go away. The reality is, there are seldom “good times” to go on vacation. Something is always going on. So, one of the tricks I use is to plan a vacation far enough out that the calendar looks reasonably clear. And, I put down non-refundable deposits and/or purchase non-refundable tickets. Then, I’m “trapped” into actually going when vacation time comes.

      I hope you and your wife have a funtastic (spelling intentional) winter vacation.


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