Those who know fundraising know that nonprofit life is full of intrigue, twisted paths, pure luck, genius, generosity, and more. This is the first in an occasional series of fictional fundraising short stories.
Dr. Taylor pushed back his red leather chair from his mahogany desk and looked out the large, beveled glass window that overlooked the courtyard. The cherry blossoms were in bloom a little early this year. Expected, given the warm winter, but unexpected as it was still March. The short-lived beauty was so intoxicating, creating an aura of promise. “Anything is possible,” called the gentle warm winds. Crocus pressed upward from the winter ground, breaking open the hard soil. Promise was blossoming outside.
Inside his office, promise was nowhere to be found. In a few short hours, Dr. Taylor would have to engage the board in discussions they had been avoiding for several years. “There are no more cuts to be made,” the vice president of finance had advised him earlier in the week. “Enrollment is down 200 students from last year, 100 from last semester,” the director of admissions had reported. “There is no endowment,” the vice president for advancement replied via email.
“How can a college not have an endowment?” Dr. Taylor wondered out loud, speaking into the silence of his sparsely furnished office. He looked at the calendar on the wall, wishing he could turn back time. How could he have not seen the signs? And why didn’t anyone warn him? The questions whirled around inside him, battering his pride, goading what was left of his self-esteem.
An attorney in private practice, and a three-term congressman, Dr. James Winston Taylor III had been blinded by the honor of being asked to serve as president of Monroe-Smith College. When Reverend Alfred Oliver and Ms. Ruby Jackson had taken him to lunch, they caught him off guard with their ask.
“Congressman, you could make a difference at Monroe-Smith. This is an opportunity to combine your talents, call on your connections, and create a new paradigm in higher education. You will have the full support of the board. You were our unanimous selection. Just think about it.” Ms. Jackson, Senior Vice President at Edison Electric did all the talking. Reverend Oliver slowly and deliberately ate his lunch – pan seared salmon, pureed parsnips, and asparagus – looking out the window at the Sandy Creek River in front of him.
Over coffee he looked directly at the congressman, “Dr. Taylor,” he said, emphasizing the word ‘doctor’. “It’s your decision. But, you were awarded that honorary degree for a reason.” He said nothing else, his words ringing still today in Dr. Taylor’s ears.
Was it vanity, obligation, or a lust for power that brought him to accept the offer? He reflected on his character flaws, despairing his weakness. Now the presidency was a door he wished he had never opened. In anger he would silently curse the board members for their pure laziness and ineptitude. “How could they have let the school decline so precipitously?” he would mutter. “How could they have not known?” he asked himself. When brave, he questioned his own motives, “Why did I say yes?”
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