It is early April here in the land of 10,000 lakes, which means it is still somewhat cold and the trees have yet to bud. The lakes around the Twin Cities are all thawed, but nothing is green yet. It is that brief period in southern Minnesota when it is no longer winter, but not quite spring. It feels like a time of waiting, amplified perhaps by uncertainty, for just as we are emerging from winter, so too are we emerging from this cursed COVID-19 pandemic. This winter of disease and isolation would seem behind us now, but at the same time not yet over. With the promise of summer in the offing, the road ahead is nonetheless unclear.

Crystal Lake is not far from my home in Burnsville, and I have developed a habit of walking down to the lake often. There is a path along the shore that winds its way through the woods just long enough to create the short-lived illusion that one is not living right next door to Interstate 35. There are trees and wildlife there, enough that I can pretend to be up north somewhere.

I am also in the habit of taking photos on these daily constitutionals. I like the clarity of black-and-white photography, not just for its power to draw one’s mind deep into an image, but also for the forgiveness it offers amateurs like me. At this time of year, there are a lot of visual lines with which to experiment owing to the trees’ lack of foliage. There is also a sense of quiet readiness here, as though the landscape is preparing to come back to life. Awakening, growth, flourishing, weakening, diminishment, death, and then the cycle starts over…

Immutable as this natural cycle is, it is fragile and easily damaged by our actions if we are not careful. Were we to pollute the lake, the whole ecosystem would suffer. The beauty of the water and surrounding woods exists without our assent and will remain long after we are gone. At this moment in time, however, it is contingent upon our living in right relationship. Damage just one aspect of that relationship, and the entire landscape is threatened.

So it is in our work with donors. Like the lake, there is great beauty in the ‘ecosystem’ of philanthropy, which draws people to their best selves but is no less contingent upon living rightly with one another. Easily fractured, the relationships we foster are what make transformational change possible. Carelessness therein sabotages the mission, and needless human suffering invariably follows.

To many, this will seem like common sense, and yet common sense is not as common as it once was. A misplaced thank-you note, a dismissive remark, or some other failed stewardship effort is akin to tossing one’s garbage into the water. One or two bags will not cause irreparable harm but keep it up, and the cycle of life cannot continue.

There are lots of credentials out there for fundraisers—CFREs, CFRMs, degrees this, and degrees that. Perhaps, though, what is needed most is a simple walk down by the lake from time to time.

Posted by Mark Zobel