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Unmute the Laughter: There is still joy in generosity

By Matthew S. Helmer

I’m exhausted. And frustrated. And sad. Concerned. Bewildered. And bothered. I don’t like feeling this way.

It has been a really long six months. Six months of working remotely. Six months since I’ve been in the same physical room with my team. Six months since I’ve sat across an actual table from a donor. Six months of endless Zoom and MS Teams. Six months. That’s longer than my first job out of college lasted. That’s 26 weeks. It’s 24 Mondays (and two post-holiday Tuesday-Mondays, which are the absolute worst!). It’s 182 days and an undisclosed number of glasses of wine. And counting.

It’s a marathon; I know. I also know I’m among the fortunate. I still have a job (that I love), and that job offers me the flexibility to work from home. I actually like my home and the people and dogs who live with me (most days). But y’all: I’m an extrovert. I went into a people-based business because, generally speaking, I like people. Not enough to brave the unmasked aisles of Target right now, but people are kind of my jam.

You know what I miss most? The laughter. Ours is a cheerful profession, and it attracts so many wonderful people who seek out the joy in every day. I miss welcoming donors to an event with big smiles and hugs. I miss returning from a meeting to find a group of colleagues gathered in a hallway, celebrating wins, big and small. I miss laughter so loud it permeates closed office doors, beckoning me to join.

And that’s just it: we’re hardwired for laughter (no, really, watch this terrific TED Talk – it’s science!). We want to know why others are laughing, so we can join the fun. Laughter is its own unique form of communication – of connection with others. Laughter relaxes us. Laughter lightens the burden of anger and sadness and loss. It signals that we understand one another, that we are in this together. And laughter is literally good for our health (maybe even as good as these glasses of wine, but I’m not a medical professional).

Don’t get me wrong: I still laugh. Probably not as much as I did in the office and almost always at my own expense. But my dogs don’t think I’m that funny, and to be honest, neither are they. These days, when I enter a meeting “room,” everyone’s microphone is on mute. Yes, it’s the professional thing to do. No, I’m not advocating we recreate the chaos of my son’s online first grade class (Y’all: It’s terrifying). But what I am encouraging is that we unmute ourselves more often – unleash some joy into the virtual space we occupy for hours at a time. Laughter is contagious (the good kind), so let’s share it again. In this world of apocalyptic headlines and happenings, we all could use it.

And if we could use a good dose of laughter, so could our donors (friendly reminder: donors are people, too). Yes, it is a time of abundant challenge, of increasing need, but this doesn’t erase the joy that is baked into the generous acts of those who invest in our mission. Their generosity can be the reason you smile today. It certainly will be the reason the beneficiaries of their gifts smile today. Let that smile turn into a joyous laugh. Capture it, and share it – share it with your donors, share it with your friends, with your family, with your team. Schedule that Zoom meeting or that FaceTime call.

Just remember to unmute yourself.

Matthew S. Helmer is a DRG Group member and Assistant Vice President of University Advancement at Colorado State University. He’s embarking on a new challenge to find laughter every day for the next 182 days (but we’ve stopped tracking the wine consumption). Connect with Matthew on LinkedIn or @ him on Twitter to share a laugh with your favorite quarantine wine. Cheers!


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