I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my mentors. The reminiscing started last month in Columbia, Mo.
Kate and I returned to campus for the Missouri School of Journalism centennial celebration. We met there in 1987, received our bachelors of journalism four years later and were married shortly thereafter.
We visited old haunts, renewed J-School friendships and attended a class reunion at the Heidelberg, a Columbia fixture. On the off chance he’d join us, we invited George Kennedy – who during our era edited the Missourian, the Columbia morning newspaper produced by journalism students – to the class gathering.
As we settled in at the Berg and began telling George stories, he walked in the door. GK was in the house.
We quickly cleared a seat at our table, excited our master had come to sprinkle wisdom on his subjects. As George spoke of the Missourian, journalism education and Columbia in the same steady cadence and perfect grammar he always had, my mind drifted back.
He never told reporters what to do; George guided with questions. A high point of our daily reporting regimen was “Second Guesses,” a series of reflections on the morning paper he posted each afternoon in the newsroom. George wrote plainly about errors, suggested ways stories could have been strengthened and – when they were deserved – shared efficient words of praise.
Walking the halls of the J-School also brought back memories of my intermediate writing teacher, the late Jim Atwater. Jim, who was passionate about the written word, read his favorite writing in class, punctuating the phrases with a slightly cocked index finger. Once, when he played his favorite Randy Travis song, tears welled up in his eyes.
There were other J-School mentors, too: Charles Sherman, Yves Colon, Sharon Harl and Mark Shepherd all made their marks. Together with George and Jim, they taught me to seek criticism, not credit; to write and speak with economy and precision; and to take seriously my job to fully learn and accurately record others’ stories.
It was – and is – the best journalism school anywhere. It’s also great training ground for fundraisers.
Like journalists, fundraisers should give away credit, not seek it. They must be effective writers and speakers. And their ability to interview, record and remember others’ stories is essential.
With the wind of a strong J-School preparation at my back, I stepped into the world of professional fundraising. More mentors were waiting.
One who continues to shape me is Norman Swails. After a career as a professional Scouter, Norm became the presiding bishop of the Community of Christ and led the campaign to raise more than $50 million to build and endow the Temple in Independence. Norm always sought to develop the best in his employees, was keenly perceptive of their ambitions and offered the perfect balance of freedom and leadership.
Bob Hartsook also has been a significant influence. His ability to see the big picture, motivate others and reward their successes are great lessons in leading by example. Hundreds of organizations have raised billions of dollars because of Bob’s confidence, counsel and courage.
Mark Brayer, John Mosby, Dennis Piepergerdes, Bill Eddy and Joanna Sebelien also guided my fundraising path. Each impacted me in unique ways.
The best thing about mentors is that they’re always there. I’m still learning from George Kennedy, who’s now a J-School professor emeritus and counseled me last week on this column. Norm Swails and I spoke the other day, and Bob Hartsook is … well, he’s my boss.
We all need mentors. Who are yours?
Matt Beem is president of Hartsook Companies, an international fundraising consulting firm. He lives in Independence.