On the way to school Wednesday morning, one of the radio hosts talked about cancer.
“Ms. V.B. had cancer,” said Sophia, 7, referring to Tracy Van Buren, her joyful, spirited kindergarten teacher who succumbed to cancer in March 2014. She was 54.
“Yes,” I said. “Cancer killed her.”
The girls thought that was a horrible thing to say.
“It’s the truth,” I told them. “A horrible truth. Cancer is a horrible disease.”
But there is a bright side.
I reminded them that I work at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, where really smart scientists are doing genetic research on different kinds of cancer: brain, breast, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate and kidney. I firmly believe that, slowly but surely, their continuing efforts are bringing the world closer to a cure.
“But you’re not a scientist,” said Serina, 9.
No, I’m not. My girls never really wanted to know what I did at HudsonAlpa. I wasn’t a scientist so that somehow made me less cool than my lab-coated colleagues. But today, they were curious about my role.
“What do you do again?” asked Sophia.
“I ask people for money,” I told them frankly. “I’m a fundraiser.”
“That doesn’t sound like a fun job,” said Serina.
“It can be fun,” I said. “I work with people who really want to help those who have cancer, or another disease, and don’t know what to do. They feel helpless. I give them an opportunity to support the research by donating, or giving money, to the cause. That means lots of people get to be a part of it, even if they aren’t scientists.”
That pacified them for the moment and they moved on to the normal morning commute activity of counting cars with Alabama stickers versus those with Auburn ones. In my head, however, I was stuck in the conversation about my career.
As a kid, I never aspired to be a professional fundraiser. I never even knew such a career existed. My aspiration was to work in TV news and I did that for about 10 years. After that, I landed a job at the local YMCA as the marketing director. A few months into that job, my CEO added fundraising to my job description. Seriously? Seriously.
Hence, my career in fundraising was born.
I want my children — and others — to know that there is fun in fundraising. There is pressure and there are challenges, the greatest of which is a tough economy. But I have yet to hear about anything close to a “cakewalk career.”
The pros in fundraising, however, far outweigh the cons, especially when you are raising funds for a place like HudsonAlpha, a Huntsville-based nonprofit organization committed to improving human health and quality of life through genomic research, educational outreach and economic development.
In fundraising, my team members and I meet amazing people and develop solid relationships, many of which cross the line from professional to personal. Donors often become friends. And it is really fun when you match a generous philanthropist to the perfect giving opportunity.
I earned a BA in English at the College of St. Benedict with a minor in communications. I thought labs in my science courses were optional (they weren’t), and I let the frogs out in 9th grade biology (not exactly a stellar science student).
Even so, through this unusual field of fundraising, I am able to be a part of the remarkable science that is, day by day and base pair by base pair, hammering away at some of life’s biggest health problems: cancer, major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, heart disease, ALS, Parkinson’s, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and more.
I may not be scientifically savvy, nor do I fully understand the process of genomic sequencing, but I get the big picture: As a fundraiser, I am able to connect people of all economic abilities to the exciting work underway at HudsonAlpha. As co-founder Jim Hudson, an incredible visionary and serial entrepreneur, once said, “You don’t have to be a scientist to make a difference in human health.”
That may be a simple revelation to some. To others, including me, it is a profound statement that makes me realize I have a pretty important job, even as a non-scientist.
If you are interested in learning more about HudsonAlpha or wish to support its potentially groundbreaking efforts, please click here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you. We might even have some fun!