Accounting, Wizardry, and Becoming a Better Grown-Up Thoughts from Delisa deVargas, Accounting & Administrative Manager
September 20th, 2019 marked my seventh year of employment with Red Feather Development Group. It’s common knowledge that seven is a lucky number. It’s important to mention that, because the seventh-year marker is a particularly special milestone at Red Feather: After seven consecutive years of employment, we become eligible to accrue the maximum allowable number of vacation days per year. Boom.
Now, upon first reading, that may sound silly; or perhaps even self-serving. What a thing for the employee of a nonprofit to mention! Anyway, we’re not supposed to want anything for ourselves, right...? Well, actually…wrong. That notion is one of the common misperceptions that burden the nonprofit industry. It’s also an idea about myself that I’ve had the amazing opportunity to unlearn while working here.
When we think about what seven years of service entails, we can see that the granting of ‘maximum annual vacation days’ eligibility’ is only a reasonable acknowledgement of the value that a dedicated employee brings. That is something that’s true for any organization; nonprofit or otherwise. For me, and for Red Feather, seven years represents a period of growth and development that has supported the transformation of many lives; my own included. The highs and lows of operations, day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year, formulate a potent alchemy that, ultimately, reveals not only the strengths we have acquired, but also the glittering promise of our as-yet untapped potential.
My position as the Accounting and Administrative Manager provides exclusive access to the intricate workings of the organization and is charged with great responsibility, authority and influence. I’m like The Man Behind the Curtains (The Wizard of Oz), operating the various levers and valves that keep everything going, shrouded in mystery, regarded with awe and a little bit of, well…fear. In the nonprofit world, that’s called Fund Accounting, Financial Reporting and Form 990 Preparation. Not quite as glamorous as having Wizard in one’s job title, but I’ll take it. After all, what is a wizard, if not someone who deliberately deploys a very particular and well-developed skill set with careful discernment? That’s exactly what I do.
It’s taken me a long time to arrive at this awareness. When I started working at Red Feather, I had been unemployed for eleven months, and was literally down to my last forty dollars (my unemployment benefits exhausted). Prior to that, I had worked a $10/hour, part-time, temporary job for seven months; it was the first job offered to me as my daughter and I were moving out of a domestic violence shelter (survivors!) and into HUD Section 8 subsidized housing (miraculous good fortune!) We still live there, by the way.
Before moving to Bozeman in 2008, I had worked 25 years in the construction industry for my Dad, helping him operate his fence company in Fairbanks, Alaska. I was excellent at that job, and it’s what allowed me to develop the accounting and administrative skills that have proved so valuable to Red Feather. However, I’d never had to compete for it. Job hunting was something new for me at age 47, and I did not have much confidence. I worried that I would not be taken seriously as an applicant, since virtually all my experience had been acquired while working for family.
The transmission in my Subaru had been broken for the entire duration of my unemployment, so I needed to find a job I could walk or take the bus to. I was home-schooling my daughter (who is now a home-schooled high school graduate), so I needed a part-time position that would give me adequate time to support her and minimize her “home alone” hours. The Bookkeeper position I was hired for at Red Feather was everything I had hoped for. Coming from a place of hardship, however, I was not quite sure I deserved it, and not quite sure I could sustain it. I needed just a little bit more magic to help light my way.
I ‘ve been a believer in magic all of my life. Just ask my co-workers--I regularly make references to Harry Potter (the books, not the films). Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is my literary comfort food, I must’ve read it thirty times. Reading the Chronicles of Narnia as a child was life changing. And then there are Disney, and DreamWorks…and don’t even get me started on fairies! The divine magic inherent to the natural world has grounded and guided me through many tumultuous times during my adult years. But there is a very special kind of magic that happened for me at Red Feather; something different, something more tangible.
Margaret Mead put it this way: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” It seems to me that those words are nearly cliché, integrated as they are into the social fabric of our times. Yet, they still hold the power of inspiration and aspiration, they are still evocative of teamwork, the encountering of adversity and overcoming it through hard work and supporting one another. Working for Red Feather has made those words real to me, transporting them from idealistic sentiment to quantitative, qualitative achievement. I have become a better person--more confident, more aware, more able to satisfy my personal and professional responsibilities. Now that, my friends, is magic.
As a contributor to or follower of Red Feather’s work, you may never have thought of “doing your part” in quite that way--never realized, I mean, that you are doing magic. But you are! That is how I experience it. Through the recording of every donation in our accounting system, I have come to recognize many, many names of our regular contributors, and I have delighted in every new and unfamiliar name that becomes part of the database. I revere and respect every grantor and sponsor who invests in the future of our programs. I hold in my thoughts a constant awareness of the need that we are working to remedy, and the joy that every fulfillment brings when we are successful. I am humbly grateful that there is so much good in the world, and that I get to be a part of it through the generosity of supporters like you. Blessed be.