I spent this past week living in a single in a Dartmouth College dorm.  A national organization which supports educational fund-raising had a conference there on, um, educational fund-raising.  My boss wanted me to go last summer when I was promoted to director of annual giving but the wedding was last summer and she recognized that it maybe wasn’t a good time for me to be spending a week away from important tasks like folding tissue paper pom poms.

So I went this summer, even though I was away just two weeks prior in Ecuador.  July has thereby been a weird month for Chris and me.  I’m not used to not being home, he’s not used to being home alone.  He was very proud of himself for going grocery shopping once, but the past week he scavenged and ate random frozen meals which I hoard for just such emergencies (really I hope he’ll take them to work in the evenings and not have to buy dinner but he never does).

Anyway, the conference was great because it was taught by a bunch of very smart and funny professionals and there were lots of interesting people there.  It did give me a strange feeling of nostalgia/deja vu, though.  Moving my crap into a barren third floor dorm room–carrying it all up the stairs because I didn’t realize there’s an elevator down the hall.  Figuring out where the bathroom/shower is and how to carry all my stuff there and back without flashing anyone.  Laying in an extra long twin bed at night and talking to Chris on the phone.  When you’re married you forget how to talk on the phone.

The conference was like summer camp: packed with activities from the moment you wake up until you pass out on your hard dorm mattress at night.  Breakfast, class in this building over here, then in that one over there, lunch, class, pre-planned social activity, pass out, repeat.  There was a surprising amount of free alcohol and therefore partying going on.  Fund-raisers like to party–we get paid to do it.

Which brings me to the next funny thing about this conference.  So we’re all stuck here in the middle of nowhere, mostly young and mostly new-ish to the field, and we want to be friendly and have fun and not have to eat alone.  So everyone is constantly introducing themselves to everyone else and finding out where they’re from and what they do and what their favorite color is and we’re bonding over this or that.  We do this all day long everyday until you’ve got your own spiel down flat and you’ve met pretty much everyone at least once.  Then one of the teachers holds a general session called “Working a Room with Style and Grace”…do not laugh at this.  Until you have to attend a function where you are expected to have perfect social skills AND find out crucial information about peoples’ philanthropic inclinations, you will have no idea how hard this can be.  I was thrown into the fire on this but it has been one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned.  So immediately, people start asking questions like what should I wear, how do I break into a group in conversation, how do I introduce myself…hello?  Have you not been doing this all week?  You’re already good at it!  People who have money to give away are still just people!  Truly, someone asked, “If I see two people having a conversation and can hear that they’re talking about something that I want to know what they think about it, how do I break in?”  I raised my hand and said, “You say, ‘I couldn’t help but overhear you talking about X and I’d love to know what you think about it.'”  Everyone gasped and nodded like I was brilliant and it was a revelation.  Seriously?!

It confirmed what I’ve always believed–fund-raising is really all about just having good manners.  Smile, be polite, shake hands, ask people about themselves, etc.  Mom, thanks for forcing me to write thank-you notes all those years!