Put Yourself Last

Development at the Herty Fountain
by Kathy Bangle

I learned a few grammar rules outside the classroom. When I was a child, my mother would implore my brothers and me to “put yourself last.”  Yes, my mother likely meant this statement to have double impact. She insisted on our being kind and letting others, especially visiting friends, go first. Company could choose the cookie first; choose the monopoly piece they wanted (usually the car); choose which game we played; (also, she often made us let the friend win the game – ARGH); etc.

The other meaning of put yourself last was with grammar. If I said, “me and Nancy are riding our bikes to town,” she would say, “STOP and put yourself last”!  She meant that I should say, “Nancy and I are riding our bikes to town” (my friend Nancy should be first and I should be last). Mama made me repeat that I would never say, “me is riding my bike to town” so why would I say, “me and Nancy?

I was sent to grammar lab a few times in college, not because I couldn’t speak or write correctly, but because I couldn’t explain the grammar rule. This particular rule states that one should use the nominative case of the pronoun when it is the subject of the verb. In this example, “I” (nominative case) is the subject of the verb “am riding.”

Yes, I rode my bike to downtown Madison quite often, and I am thankful for my mother!

Working in development, both interpretations of this phrase have remained relevant. Being thoughtful and considering the wishes of the donor are essential to success in development. However, we can’t overlook the written word. Much of our communication with one another and our donors are in writing, which can range from an informal email to a formal proposal. Good intentions can’t mask misspellings and poor phrasing. Always review your work … and put yourself last.