Adams’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
I’ve worked as a Director of Development for multiple nonprofits and I’ve burned out at multiple nonprofits. I always struggled to set respectable work/life boundaries and my health suffered as a result. One boss called me a “workaholic, and not in a good way.” I needed to find a way to fulfill my desire to work as a servant leader while managing my self-care. I figured, if I could work that hard for other people, wouldn’t I work as hard for myself? I still help nonprofits achieve their mission, but with a healthy respect to my work/life balance, by working freelance as a storyteller, grant writer, and fundraising coach.
You can reach success by many avenues, but I measure the success of my business against my mission. Even as a freelance contractor, it was important to my business model that I develop a mission and vision. My mission is to make a difference by empowering those who make a difference. I am successful when my nonprofit clients can reach their revenue goals and achieve their own mission. I also created a detailed strategic plan that ties my own financial success to the revenue I generate for my nonprofit clients to help them meet the needs of their communities.
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I could say my biggest success was the multimillion dollar grant awarded from my grant narrative–but it’s not. My biggest success was a humble award for a client who trusted me to write their first grant. I was able to tell their story in a way that showed their importance to and impact on the community. This was an outpatient hospice in a rural mountain community, and they requested the full salary plus benefits for a critical position that would allow them to provide higher quality care to their patients in remote areas. They received the full grant request and it opened doors for additional donor-advised giving from the same foundation. I helped the nonprofit, I helped their clients, and I helped their clients’ families–that’s my biggest and my best success.
I operate by referral. Over the past year, the requests for my business services have exceeded my capacity. I have turned down almost as much work as I have accepted. I am a sole proprietor and have not yet subcontracted any of my work. I am in the process of changing my business model to allow me the capacity to scale up, but this new model will require me to market new services and possibly manage staff or subcontractors. I understand my destination but the journey feels overwhelming.
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My son, during his teenage years, has been one of my most important role models. When I burned out at yet another nonprofit, risking my health and neglecting my relationship with my son to work 65-70 hours a week, I knew I needed to change my lifestyle but I didn’t know how. My son provided the answers. I looked to my son, who I was always rushing, and I learned to slow down–ironically, I was late less often when I didn’t rush. I watched him take joy in simple pleasures, and I realized that what I criticized as apathy was actually carefree–I’ve learned to forsake the expectations society puts on me and find my own path. As I began to chart my own course to become an entrepreneur, and everyone else shared their doubts, my son cheered me on, assured me I would succeed, and reminded me that I deserved to be happy. I now work fewer hours, make more money, and enjoy a healthy balance that puts life first and work second. I’m not sure I would have made it this far without my son to help me see with a new perspective.
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