I work in financial development for a living. And to most people, "financial development" means one thing: asking people for money.
But is there more to it than that? That was the basic but crucial question that faced me when I entered the field later in my career. And I needed a quick answer.
I found it on Christmas Eve while holding a bowl of popcorn.
My holiday tradition is watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” on Christmas Eve. This now classic Capra film features Jimmy Stewart as broken and befuddled George Bailey. You remember that George discovers life’s true meaning when Clarence, a clumsy but lovable old angel, shows him what the world would have been like if George had never been born. It’s a bit sappy but deftly delivers touching moments and I find myself pulling it out again each year.
When you’ve seen a movie more than once, you appreciate new angles and nuances. Last year I discovered the story’s real hero. Not George. Not even Clarence. But dear, sweet Mary Bailey, George’s loyal and loving wife, played by Donna Reed. Mary’s shining moment is the film’s finale, and although her screen time in it is brief, it is unforgettable.
A large sum of money from George’s savings-and-loan business has gone missing. The next couple of busy hours find him facing financial ruin, getting drunk, getting punched, contemplating suicide, being touched by an angel, and straightening out life’s priorities. But George still has a problem—that missing money. A warrant is out for his arrest that could land him in jail. On Christmas Eve, no less.
In steps Mary. While George gambols about with Clarence, Mary takes off her apron and goes to work. She intentionally and creatively communicates to George’s family and friends that he’s in trouble. Big trouble. George needs them right now. Specifically, he needs their financial help. And it’s urgent. Very urgent.
They respond in a big way. People who care for George and respect him for the good work he’s done—and the good man he is—joyously converge at the Bailey house with donations galore. It’s an incredible scene with lots of laughter and singing and ornament bells ringing and giant smiles all around.
The biggest smile belongs to Mary. You find her standing quietly next to the Christmas tree in her husband’s warm embrace, surrounded by her children, family and friends. And she is absolutely beaming, just soaking in the joyous waterfall of love and support that’s flooding into their home.
As I watched that scene, with popcorn in hand, I discovered the answer to my financial development question. I found it in the actions—and the face—of Mary Bailey. I realized I was watching a world-class financial development professional.
What Mary did was simple but powerful. She wasn’t just “asking for money.” She was helping connect a recipient with a giver, and ended up meeting deep needs in both. And it did something very special for her as well.
What did George Bailey need? Obviously, for practical reasons, he needed money. But George also needed the support of his friends and loved ones at a crisis point in his life. And that’s exactly what he received.
What did his family and friends—the “givers”—need? Whether they realized it or not, they needed an opportunity to express appreciation to George for the ways he had helped them in the past. They also needed to say thanks for the blessings in their own lives. And here was a perfect way to do it.
And what about Mary? What was she so happy about? Definitely for her husband, who would still be home for Christmas. And happy for the love and support she was seeing him receive from people who meant so much to him.
But at least a small part of Mary’s smile was knowing she had played a vital role in all of this. She had taken the initiative—intentional and creative initiative—to connect the need to the giver. And it worked. And she felt great.
Look at Mary’s face one more time. That is the smile of a financial development professional who has discovered what it’s all about. Financial development is intentionally and creatively connecting a need to a giver for the mutual benefit of both. And when it works, all three parties involved—need, giver, professional—share a joy that well, makes for a wonderful life.
Thanks, Mary Bailey, for a Christmas story and a career lesson that lasts way beyond Christmas Eve. And please pass the popcorn.