National Capital Chapter

“We Make a Life by What We Give”

*PRSA NCC 2023 Hall of Fame Recipient

By David Fuscus, CEO, Xenophon Strategies, Inc.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill’s attributed words distill a profound truth about the human experience. Our greatest legacy is often not what we accumulate for ourselves, but what we contribute to the wellbeing of others. As someone who has navigated the corridors of public relations for nearly four decades, I’ve come to recognize that an important gauge of professional success lies in the ability to use one’s accomplishments and success to both mentor the next generation, and to help lift up our communities.

From the first press release I wrote for my parent’s restaurant in 1980 to steering meaningful diversity initiatives within the global PR industry, the most personally fulfilling aspect of my career has been finding and acting on ways to help others. This principle is an important professional guidepost and I’d highly recommend turning it into a part of your personal philosophy.

In the PR industry, the heart of many people’s professional directives revolves around mentorship. Early in my career, I had several mentors who took the time and effort to help guide me as I developed both professionally and personally. Mike Deaver was Ronald Reagan’s Communications Director and he and I shared a commitment to helping people with substance use. Over our shared commitment, he helped guide my professional development and was my key counselor in planning and founding Xenophon Strategies.

Having benefitted from the wisdom of mentors like Mike, I honor his memory by actively paying it forward with students, people early in my career as well as the younger staff at Xenophon. Direct mentorship of young hopefuls seeking to carve out their own paths in public relations is perhaps the most fulfilling aspect of my work. Every conversation with a recent graduate or newcomer to the PR world is not just an act of nurturing potential talent but a personal enrichment—a connection to the fresh energy that will drive the future of our industry.

Paid internships serve as a vital bridge for talent entering the workforce, and Washington, DC is the home to tens of thousands of summer internships. Helping someone find the right place, in the right industry, can influence the entire arc of their career. Certainly, we offer these opportunities within my firm, and we aim to enrich the learning experience of young professionals and underscore the value of their nascent contributions. It’s an investment in the individual, as well as the industry at large.

One also needs to look beyond your specific professional niche for ways to help the community as a whole. For example, finding organizations that can benefit from your expertise can bring great rewards. For many years, I’ve served on the communications committee of Food & Friends, a Washington, DC charity that provides life-sustaining meals and nutrition counseling to individuals and their families battling serious illnesses.

And my work for Food & Friends is a good example of how one can witness firsthand how effectively conveyed messages can not only raise awareness but can also power donations and the expansion of services. And in the process, there have been key lessons in compassion, resilience, and the tangible impact of community support.

Over my career, I’ve accumulated a spectrum of accomplishments, which sometimes come with either deserved or undeserved accolades. However, when I reflect upon my most valued experiences, it’s the relationships nurtured, the young professionals mentored, and the ways I’ve used communications to help my community that stand out as my most valued and genuine achievements. My agency, now well into its third decade, has given me a platform to do, as Churchill recommended, and “make a life by what we give.”

And one thing I’ve learned is that the essence of a meaningful career does not solely rest on what we achieve but equally on what we help build through service to others. Engaging in one’s community, particularly through a profession like public relations, offers a unique power to enact change and nurture potential. And it is by discovering this cycle of giving and receiving that work can lead to not just a successful career but to a purposeful life.