The Soy Chai Latte was warming, welcoming, like a favorite blanket that’s been tucked away all summer finally getting use on a crisp fall evening. It was a celebratory treat during what felt like a year without anything to celebrate. If we all wear two faces – our private, personal side, and our work side — truth be told, both of his faces were swollen and sullen. That’s what a year of 70+ hour work weeks coupled with the loss of multiple family members and chronic health issues — no doubt exacerbated by an unsustainable work schedule – did to a person. That, and of course, the constant, unrelenting abuse at the hands of a superior in name only. Someone overcompensating for a general lack of knowledge about her job and the nonprofit industry as a whole, with a piercing tongue and a propensity for threats both overt and slight.
But this morning was different. There was a jump in his step that belied the fact that he didn’t get home until 3am. Gala was over, and it was a huge success.
It wasn’t a triumph just because many of the four hundred guests in attendance said so throughout the event. Nor was it the myriad logistics that flowed seamlessly, effortlessly. No, those were things that only Development people notice but go unattended by the masses unless something goes wrong — and nothing went wrong. Nor was it the speakers, each and every one adhering to the carefully crafted, strategic message he drafted for them, even the volunteer auctioneer sorely lacking in both personality and a propensity for memorizing lines. And it wasn’t the video that he spent days storyboarding, filming, and editing for the sole purpose of engendering enthusiasm long since dormant – although the room did rise in solidarity to applaud.
He wasn’t fool enough to celebrate those little details as a success. He knew the only thing that mattered to his Executive Director was profit. She had transitioned to the nonprofit world — not by her own choosing of course — after a career on Wall Street. In that area, at least, he now had currency in her eyes. After all, a 60% increase in net revenue is rarefied air. Especially when the budget only called for 9%. At long last he had reason to swagger, something to deflect his Executive Director’s abuse and prove that his fundraising ideas weren’t “stupid,” and that in fact, he wasn’t an “idiot” or a “liar” or a “third grader.” And moreover, that donations don’t just “come in” without someone at the wheel. It takes strategic planning, hard work, passionate messaging, and continued cultivation to build meaningful relationships with contributors. That’s why sponsorships, journal ads, attendees and auction purchases were all up… dramatically.
He allowed himself the Latte as a treat for a job well done, a year in the making.
He didn’t realize that it was to become a bracing draught against a new and tenacious onslaught.
As he stepped off the elevator and walked down the dark hallway toward his office, the first thing he noticed was that her light was on. It was curious, not because it was the morning after Gala and everyone, surely, was going to come in late. Rather, it was curious because he was always the first one in, while she was allergic to starting her day prior to 10am. Still, he was determined to ride his “runner’s high” from the night before. He fancied himself the Flash, and that today, of all days, he could speed by her office without nary a trace but a blur of light.
Instead, he chose to pop his head in through her doorway and offer his customary “Morning” as he continued down the hallway. It was a personal fuck-you he cultivated during the year as if to say, “It’s certainly not ‘good’ to see you” and “I’m not stopping to chat.”
“Jon, get in here!”
Stopping dead in his tracks, he turned with the precision of an automaton, and said, “I’m sorry, what?”
“You heard me. NOW!”
“Is something wrong?”
Although her eyes remained fixed on her desk, he knew her entire soul, if she possessed one, was targeting him for some surgical vivisection.
“Yes there’s something wrong. What the hell was that last night? That was a disaster. It was the single worst event I’ve ever been to. Your entire department is a waste of money. You should be ashamed to call yourself whatever the hell it is you call yourself. ”
Immediately on the defensive, and questioning the size of the Latte and the choice of beverage entirely, all Jon could do was respond with incredulity, “You’re kidding right? What disaster? That was the most successful Gala this organization has ever had. It raised…”
In typical fashion, she cut him off mid-sentence, ignored his response, and pressed her point with the pressure of a vise, or an alligator’s maw.
“Ben said he couldn’t get a bottle of red at the end of the night. Stephen, who was sitting at my table, had to wait 5 minutes — FIVE WHOLE MINUTES — to get a steak that was actually edible and not raw. There was a light that kept flickering in the back of the ballroom that distracted me when I was giving my speech. And only half the room gave during the Fund-a-Need. Why didn’t more people contribute? Every single person should have made a donation. Every. One. Those things are all your fault Jon. Yours. What are you stupid? How could you let this happen? It’s like you just don’t care. Like you don’t even want to be here.”
The celebration, the swagger, the reasons for confidence slipped away just as quickly as the foam on his Latte.
He debated retorting each and every point… Ben’s a drunk with two DWIs, do we really need to give him more alcohol right before he gets in his car… Stephen’s a millionaire and hasn’t even paid for his fuckin’ ticket and I’m supposed to care about his steak… What are you a cat, easily distracted by a flashlight 100′ away… Maybe if you let me hire a professional auctioneer with a personality instead of your next door neighbor with a social anxiety disorder, more people might have felt compelled to contribute… oh, and only half the room contributed because they were fucking couples you mathematically-challenged Asshat.
Instead, he led with the only defense he was allowed as a twenty-year Development professional, inculcated to please and to take the blame for everything.
“I’m sorry. But. But. The revenue is up 60% from last year. Isn’t that what you wanted? Isn’t that all that matters?”
“You should have raised it 70% Jon. There will be consequences for this. You know what I mean right? YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. And you can forget taking off this Friday. That’s out. You’ve got to find more money. Now shut up, and get it done.”
As he skulked back to his office, he stopped by the kitchen and texted his wife that he was sorry, but that he wasn’t going to be able to go to her friend’s beach house this weekend as they planned.
Then, he dumped the rest of the Latte down the drain.