A Jimmy Choo work pump makes a precise, surgical tap when it hits a wide-plank, pine wood floor. A $700 pair of shoes announces its wearer with authority, so she knew when the Executive Director walked into the turn-of-the-century farmhouse turned non-profit office space.
It had been a prolonged absence with the holidays, but the mechanical taps signaled a primal change in the inhabitants’ dynamics. Four minutes later her inbox lit up: “I want to meet with you and the rest of your team in my office in 10 minutes.” She slowly breathed in until her chest fully expanded and her body lifted, exhaling at 20 counts. At count 19 she cursed her prudent choice of herbal tea over whiskey that filled her Klean Canteen. The situation needed more than air, affirmations and pacifism.
The gang of three entered the Executive Director’s office. The coldness and dark were ever present in the farmhouse, partially because the ED set the century-old heating system to 60 degrees and duct-taped select switches to the “off position.” The ED was ever-present in calculating the minutia associated with cost-savings and income-generation.
The gang settled around the pockmarked, donated conference table. They noticed a solitary appeal letter. A lone orphan leaning against an overturned glass. The envelope was muddied, slightly torn. It was the abandoned, abused child in a late night television appeal. She thought she heard Sarah McLachlan singing in the distance. The letter was addressed to a relatively low-level donor that typically made an annual gift that belied her wealth. The Development Director knew it didn’t matter how the letter came back from the dead. She thought of the toddler Gage, in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, who was lovingly resurrected from the dead by his despondent father, only to return to his family like a deranged ninja and kill his mother. She wondered how deep a papercut could tear through skin.
The ED spoke. “THIS! This..LETTER..was handed to me at my country club’s holiday party. This was sent to MY friend. A friend who is very generous and is an important donor! I am mortified. I want to know what happened. Who killed the annual appeal?!!”
The Development Director’s eyes drifted away from the seething, raging war that was bound to take at least an hour, if not more, to negotiate. She considered her options.
The ED slid into the job a few years ago after a long career in take-overs and acquisitions. The organization suffered from the same humdrum issues as most nonprofits, especially post-Recession, so the board chose their Jimmy Choo armored knight mostly because she looked exactly like them. A bottom-line, grind-to-the-bone corporate sorceress that apparently could spin gold at the drop of a piercing web of pressure point demands. There was not much gold to be found during these years, yet the organization could be described as a Dr. Seuss nightmare of Thneed-making, resource-ravaging excess. The staff had been chopped down, laid bare and continually plundered for more programs, more events, more of anything that squeezed-out even a modicum of income regardless of mission-fit.
“Sarah. SARAH!” She throws up her hands either to feign incredulity or to telegraph a forthcoming slap. “Do you have anything at all to contribute here? This is YOUR team and this is a BIG screw up. Can you even tell that we upgraded to the matte satin finish? NO! I want to know…who killed these letters?”
Sarah finally looked up. She sat back, deeper into the chair and felt extremely calm. She always thought that liberation would come from a job well done, from raising more money, exceeding expectations and inspiring the love of donors, board and executive staff. Her passion was always committed to the mission, but she mistakenly thought that there would come a day when she could finally have the staffing, resources and support needed to seamlessly execute a successful fundraising program and not hand-stuff a thousand envelopes a few days before Christmas because the Appeal had became a caricature of itself. Sarah would be liberated, at peace with her career and fulfilled by the work.
At that moment, Sarah realized that liberation was not normalizing the oppressor. Liberation was being on the outside and normalizing resistance. Sarah grabbed the envelope, shoved it in her back pocket and turned to the ED: “Yeah…it’s a pity. I guess we’ll never know.”
She walked out of the turn-of-the-century farmhouse turned non-profit office space and never returned.
– Sarah and Jon