It was early December when I arrived at my location in Australia.
The fires had been burning for several weeks and had been slowly chewing more and more bushland.
As the days rolled on, dark clouds of smoke became even more ominous, and some days, depending on the wind, had “raining” burnt leaves, ash, and soot.
Days rolled by filled with smoke as the fires got closer and closer. Hectares and hectares just incinerated around us daily—soot covering our floors, our windows, our cars. Most days had an eerie yellow cast to them. It was hard to breathe normally.
Then came New Year’s eve. The day the fire raged in Southeast New South Wales.
Fire can be ferocious and takes down everything in its path. It is merciless. Sneaking up on you with a quick wind change. A moving inferno. And, with the wind changes, fires are fanned, and ember fields are spread far and wide.
I was in the epicenter of it all. Ten miles up the road at Lake Conjola, 80 homes were lost. In the neighboring town of Milton, several houses as well. One could be standing, and another right next to it burnt to the ground. The firies did the best to save as many of them as they could.
The Princes Highway looked as if a bomb had gone off. Signs melted, pink fire retardant sprayed on the road and burnt ember sticks of trees. I was stuck on the highway overnight, not being able to get to my location as others were evacuating in the other direction.
Every day during these horrifying weeks, I got up in the middle of my night to begin my “American” day on Australian time. I trudged down to my office with an awful stench of burning wood. I watched the sunrise from my desk, a bright orange globe, the likes of which I had never seen before. I kept on working. And, I kept on working. As the ash was falling, as the houses were burning, I just kept on working. My client’s lives and those they serve couldn’t stop because I was in the middle of a crisis.
Until one day.
The rains came.
Nature has a way of showing us what’s what.
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It’s kind of like nonprofit fundraising.
There could be emergencies happening all around us. Fires that we must figurately put out. Bad times, sad times, and plain just depressing times. Sometimes we even feel bleak, hollow, and burnt out inside. Sometimes the winds change, and we are left under a figurative ember attack, just trying to protect what we have. Then the black smoke rolls across and clouds out, even the brightest object. Other times, it gets so bad that there is nowhere else to go but grab what you have and flee. But, yet, we trudge on. And, we keep on moving forward. Life around us could be burning, but we don’t stop.
Today, the forest surrounding me is now lush green with growth only two months after those terrible days. Things sprout daily, and the once bleak, spiny landscape of burnt out trees is now green with fresh new growth.
It reminds us that even though we have been through some tough times, things turn out OK. We see all the good that we have accomplished because we didn’t give up. We didn’t stop during those most difficult times. We kept on keeping on during the darkest, scariest, most depressing moments of our work lives. And, just like the “bush,” we grow back even stronger and quicker feeding off of the sooty, ash-covered soil that has now been made only so fertile. That ash, a symbol of much destroyed, is what provides the food for new, stronger growth.
Nature taught me it takes resilience to be a fundraiser.
It taught me how to keep going, to move forward, and to recover quickly from difficulties, despite our challenges, and because of our problems.
Nonprofit work is plain hard. It can be plain ugly. It can be plain depressing.
What sets a good fundraiser apart is resilience.
Do you choose to grow from the ashes of burnt embers?
Photo from the New South Wales Rural Fire Service
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