The ED Vacation
I am in Vietnam on vacation and have been looking forward to lounging on the beach, a cold coconut in one hand, and in the other: Fundraising: Hands-On Tactics for Nonprofit Groups, by L. Peter Edles, Second Edition. This is not my ideal book for leisure-time reading, but there is no other time to read it, and VFA’s new part-time Development Director, Rachel, insists I read it. Like other effective Development Directors, she can be bossy and scary, always saying stuff like, “Sign this stack of acknowledgement letters by Friday” or “Are you really going to meet a program officer wearing that shirt?” or “Go comb your hair; here’s a Tic-Tac.”
I think there are several reasons for EDs to take long vacations. First, it is a stressful job, and we need time to recharge and de-agify. Second, it is good to put some distance in order to get a clearer perspective on work. And third, it’s a good test for staff in working together to solve problems, and a good leadership experience for whomever is in charge while we’re gone.
Still, it is not as simple as most people think. There’s all this preparation that has to happen first, such as establishing a chain of command. “James Hong is in charge,” I said. He smiled, starting to put his fingers into the “power tent” position. “However, you can override him with a two-third majority.”
Then there’s a whole bunch of important projects that have to happen. “UWKC’s outcome reports are due on July 23rd and the demographics reports are due a week later. SVP is still waiting for our program outcomes as well, now that the school year is over. HSD’s contract renewal package should be coming in while I’m gone, but that can be signed electronically, so ensure that if I don’t get to it, find a way to get a hold of me. And of course, don’t forget the CAPACD and Medina grants, which we are still behind on—Actually, you know what, I’ll just cancel my ticket…”
“Go!” they said. Maybe a little too eagerly.
I am now in the beautiful city of Da Lat, in the mountains, 4,500 feet above sea level, at an internet café, because I knew this blog post was due. On my right is a snot-nosed little teenager who is smoking, and his fumes are wafting over as I type this. “Son,” I said “blow your smoke the other direction! I’m trying to work!” There are no laws against smoking indoors here, so I have to suffer. “It’s not me, it’s the wind!” he protests. “I don’t care, knock it off,” I said.
I don’t think EDs can ever truly have a real vacation. We constantly think about the thousands of emails breeding like rabbits in our inbox, about the important time-sensitive stuff we might be missing while we’re away, about how our staff are doing and whether they are planning a mutiny, and then—deep down—all of us are always kind of hoping that they are planning a mutiny. It has made for a very tense few days, and everywhere I go, I hunt down WiFi so I can check my emails on my smart phone. Three days ago, I was in my home village, up in the mountains, where pine trees grow out of red earth, beautiful and tranquil. And where there is no WiFi! For three days I couldn’t check my email. I was going through withdrawal symptoms, twitching and scratching. But then, I started relaxing a little bit!
For almost all my vacations, the first five or six days are spent with a severe cold. This seems to happen with other EDs. I think the constant high level of stress keeps our immune system working, and as soon as we relax, it also takes a vacation. This year is no different. I have been sick two days now, hacking and coughing and stuffed up. Last night, we went to a pharmacy, where they prescribed four different kinds of medicines, and I have no idea what they are. This idiot next to me continues to smoke. I am irritated. It’s no fun being sick. But I have only myself to blame. I shouldn’t have gotten so relaxed! Stress keeps me from getting sick. There’s only one thing to do: I’ll go back to my hotel and open Fundraising: Hands-On Tactics. I’ve tucked a copy of VFA’s cash flow chart in the book.
Vu Le is the Executive Director of the Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA), an SVP Investee. His column, “Staff, Retreat!” documents the fun of nonprofit work. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.