For years I have been walking monthly in a local park to meet and greet fellow fundraisers and wannabe fundraisers. In my consulting business we help nonprofits find and keep good development officers. I am paid by the nonprofit but will meet regularly with candidates whether or not they are deemed qualified for positions we may have posted. Even early on business was so hectic, I could not keep up with the demand for individual in-person interviews or meet ups at the nearby coffee shop. So, Walk with the Consultant was born.

I offered to meet with a group of individuals on a monthly basis in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. Some folks were right out of college and looking for their first jobs. Some candidates were looking for their next job. Some corporate types wanted to do something more meaningful with their lives and wanted to discuss jumping ship to the nonprofit world, where I have worked for more than 30 years. Sometimes it was a lonely walk by myself and sometimes we would have a crowd.

We have had adventures. Walkers have brought their kids, their strollers, their bikes, and their pets. We have seen weddings and picnics and movie stars at the farmer’s market. Once we accidentally joined a PRIDE parade, have been targeted for recruitment by fundamentalist Christians, and on several occasions have viewed lovely arts and crafts displayed along our paths.

Wildlife abounds. We have seen frogs, turtles, snakes, fish, geese, birds, bees, and other critters. We’ve seen all types of food vendors and I never fail to stop for a King of Pops when it is hot.

We have discussed leadership, marketing, annual funds, and capital campaign strategies. We have covered planned giving basics, collaborating with volunteers and corporate sponsorship. Our most popular conversations may be interviewing, job openings, and sharing local philanthropic news. Basically, we discuss whatever our fellow walkers want to talk about in the fundraising profession.

My favorite story from our walks is when one of my friends showed up. She reported being happy in her current job but wanted to become a board member at a yet to be determined nonprofit. The next two people who arrived that day were starting a new school on the west side of town. They were looking for board leadership ideas. We did our usual walk around the park for about an hour and a quarter and in just that small amount of time, that little start up organization had a new board member! It doesn’t usually happen that quickly, but it is rewarding when I get to see immediate results of our innovative networking regimen.

Where else can I get fresh air, some exercise, communicate with people of like minds in a non-threatening environment? I am privileged to see old friends and meet new ones. It constantly amazes me how I continue to become educated about nonprofits new to me and learn new tricks of the development trade.

Two of my friends have started their own walks in the park in their towns-one in Chattanooga and one in Tulsa. This is a great activity for AFP (The Association of Fundraising Professionals) or other membership group. You can pick a location that is conveniently located to your clients, prospects, friends, and donors that offers free parking, restrooms, and other amenities. (I already mentioned the popsicles I prefer.) I am partial to well-marked, safe paths with an easy access to a snack bar, a lake, a swing or other possibilities.

We tried to continue our walks virtually during COVID, but my phone bounced too much. Or maybe that was just me speaking behind the mask in not too easy to understand conversations. But we are vaccinated, and we are back in person! We walk rain or shine! (I will admit that the day it was 3 degrees, we walked to the closest coffee shop and talked indoors.) But you, too, can commit!

Get out there! You might lose a COVID pound or two, learn about a new nonprofit, get a new job lead, or make a new friend. In Atlanta we walk monthly at 9 am on Saturday mornings. Directions can be found to Piedmont Park on our website.

If you can’t join us, start your own Walk with the Consultant in your town. What are you waiting for? It is free, it’s fun, and it is available to everyone!