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  • Dear Pippo,

    I hope this letter finds you well and free of rips in your seams. I am fine.

    I am sitting in the convention hallway of a major chain hotel observing all of the attendees. You see, this is a workshop for “fundraising professionals.” Yes, the hall is filled with committed people who work for non-profit organizations like the one for which I work. Ok, some of them like the Red Cross are a little bigger than our humble children’s home. Some are smaller operations.

    You can tell the extreme environmental non-profit fundraisers. They are the ones with the beards, tie dyed shirts, and tattoos. Some of the men who work for them look like that, too. The word “dude” comes up in their conversations a lot.

    The “save the animals” crowd is easy to spot. They are wearing vests made of jungle vines and sporting hemp shoes. Most of them are carrying duct tape wallets.

    I always know when I get around the professional childcare fundraisers. They are the ones with the rainbow colored nametags and wearing ties that have kid-sized painted handprints on them.

    Most everyone else could be characterized as “black suits”. You know the kind. They have the slicked back hair, the dark suit, and the white shirt. If too many of them get on one side of the room it looks like a Secret Service lookalike contest.

    In the old days, convention attendees were given a name tag with large black marker letters announcing his/her name. You wore it high on your right upper chest so that people could easily read the large lettered name as you leaned in to shake hands with them. Well, no more. In this high powered technical world one is now issued a sort of generic necklace with a large square pocket in the front to display your name card. Apparently this is some sort of unisex concession to make us all look equal. The downside to this fashion error is that, in their quest to make one size fit all, the large square pocket ends up at just about mid chest. (Don’t get ahead of me.) The problem is multiplied by the placement of the convention’s logo, the logo of the corporate seminar sponsor, and the seminar theme on the name tag leaving only a small rectangle to put your name and your company’s. (I said, Don’t get ahead of me). The “I need to connect with you by calling you by your name” desire and the limitations of modern optometrics join together to force your new “best friend” to sneak a quick glance at your nametag for that much needed name in order to “keep it real” with you. (You are getting ahead of me again.) After the first few minutes of introductions I’m beginning to have empathy with Dolly Parton. I find myself being tempted to say, “I’m up HERE!” (Ok, here’s what you’ve been waiting for.) Consider the statistics: fundraising is a career dominated by women (No, I didn’t say dominating women—although I guess it’s possible—but that’s for another letter later, I’m sure). Because of these strategically placed name tags I am forced to politely shake hands with these women while trying to maintain eye contact-- yet at the same time trying to catch a glimpse of some hint of their name without them thinking I am looking at … at… you know… “Them”. It gives me a headache.

    In addition to the name tag fiasco, I find upon registering that a local chain discount store has issued all registrants a dandy black bag with red paisley trim and double handles—just right for carrying on your shoulder…that is, if you are a purse carrying sort of person. Luckily my shirt and tie coordinated with the purs…uh, I meant to say “bag.” In order to avoid looking as though I like to carry a manpurse, I even tried knotting the shoulder straps together, but that just made the bag appear to have a large black flower attached where the handles should be. I just gave up and carried it, trying not to make eye contact with anyone.

    One of the speakers at the seminar spent an hour in his class insisting that we, as fundraisers, should dress professionally. Now I have to figure out how to buy a $169 suit from JC Penney and make it look like a $1200 Brooks Brothers suit. I suppose I will have to throw out the tie with the handprints.

    In another class, we learned about Segmentation. This is defined as “driving constituents into meaningful groups based on their relationship to your project.”

    Here is how Segmentation would work on this Dear Pippo blog:

    FTR – First Time Reader

    STR – Some Time Reader

    LTR – Last Time Reader

    OMH – Over My Head

    WSH – Without Sense of Humor

    SOPGEQR – Snorted Once Publically, Got Embarrassed, Quit Reading

    But I guess the most interesting thing that happened today occurred at the luncheon. The keynote speaker was a French guy. He owned a lot of upscale restaurants. A lot of them. I’m sure he had much to say that could have been of value to all of us attending. However, there were a few distractions.

    If you really want to get the full effect of the speaking event in question, you must first place your chair in front of a large fan to replicate the hum of the air conditioning system. Then, while clinking plates and silverware together in a large basket with one hand, rattle a large sheet of tin slowly with the other hand to create a low volume rumble like the voices of several hundred people using (as grandparents say to the grandkids) their “inside voices”. (A side note: We will pause here to allow all who are reading this and have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to gather these items, lay them out in order, and then practice using them). Now that we’ve set the scene, try to picture in your head a speaker who, although a brilliant business man, can barely be understood because of his accent.

    This is what I heard, “Par vous me me vou qui be soti la man zee ti la…” (Again, we will pause for the Obsessive-Compulsives to get their “Speaking French for Dummies” book out to see if these are real French words. Don’t tell them I made them up). The speaker continues: “Vous oui pro be be ti lo queues…SO!... (Now this is my chance. I haven’t understood more than a few words at this point. I picked out the word “women” but it was pronounced, “Wee-meen”. I also heard “mission”, but in came out “Mee-Sheen”. And I’m fairly sure that the word “no” in English translates “No” in French. But by uttering the word, “SO!” he’s hit a stopping spot, and this is my chance to board the Train of Thought before it leaves for the next stop. Curiously, when this speaker says, “SO!” it sounds like you were going to say, “Sooooooo” and someone chopped the word off with a meat cleaver. Listen: “SO!” (Did you hear it? For those who learn visually I suggest making a chopping motion with your hand…Oh, you did that already? Sorry.). But I digress.

    I apparently am not the only one who was having trouble understanding. As I looked around the room I saw many of my colleagues leaning forward in their seats, eyes locked, and faces red from straining to hear…much like a room full of constipated toddlers (without the same results, I hope).

    Fortunately during his speech, this French orator/entrepreneur has been showing power point slides, coaxing us through the trail of his speech with the breadcrumbs of pictures. We knew he was talking about women (don’t forget to pronounce it “WeeMeen” with a French accent) and his restaurant (We saw a slide of people eating French bread). And then, suddenly, he showed a slide with actual sentences on it. He proceeded to point at the words and act as if he were reading them. I say “act” because the spoken words I heard were not at all what I anticipated based on the words on the screen. If they were accurate, then all the things I thought he said for the previous 40 minutes were incorrect and I’m back to square one. Mercifully, the speech ends with “So! (I saw you do the chop) Tank euwe, and goood aftearnuun!”

    So now the seminar is wrapping up. There are volunteers at the exits asking for your name tag necklace “to recycle them”. That makes the grass vest people and the tie dyed shirt people very happy. It’s only four hours home through Houston rush hour traffic.

    It’s been a great day. Until next time, my dear Pippo.


    Watsea Sayen and his co-worker, Donlook Downderr
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