Friday, September 10, 2010

A Donor's Story

This week I had the privilege of meeting a wonderful woman and she has given me permission to tell her story.

We will call her ‘Sarah’ to respect her privacy. Sarah and her husband ‘Mike’ are major donors and long time supporters to the charity I work for. Their file is significant and goes back a long way. Three years ago they took out a seven figure insurance policy and named our charity as the beneficiary. Every year they pay a five figure premium on that policy and receive a charitable tax receipt.

The file for this donation is in top shape. It is easy to see when the policy was purchased, what the premiums are, when they are due and who to contact at the insurance company. When Sarah and Mike pass on (which will be quite some time as they are both in their early sixties) we will receive the donation. The file also outlines that we are to purchase a piece of land and create a nature reserve in honour of their son and name it after him. The file is a shining example of what we should all be doing so that our successors can continue the relationship.

However, what the file doesn’t really tell us is that their son died very quickly of bone cancer when he was nineteen years old - almost fifteen years ago. That he loved nature and was full of empathy for animals. Once he even stopped his teenage friends while driving to help an injured seagull. The file doesn’t tell us about how all the teenagers he grew up with coped with the loss of their friend or the hole left in Sarah and Mike’s lives because their son was an only child.

The insurance policy is part of how they are coping with this great loss. This donation and their connection to our organization is a connection to their deceased son. Their gift is how their son will live on forever - in nature.

I love meeting donors and have been very fortunate in the past ten years to get to know some spectacular people. I can’t express with words how much I love this part of my job. But, this was a very special donor visit, and very rare for a generalist fundraiser. In forty five minutes Sarah and I shared tea, a tear, some laughter and some candid conversation. We also decided that a copy of the picture of their son that hangs over their fireplace should be in our file. Sarah is glad to write down her son’s story and the feelings that she shared with me for the file too. We are going to do this because we know that by the time this donation is realized it is very likely that I will have moved on and obviously Sarah and Mike won’t be involved.

Yes business administration is a very important part of our jobs. Good charities like mine know this. Let us also remember that complex donations are usually extremely well thought out and full of emotion. Let’s start making sure that those who follow us get to shed tears with our donors too – even if it is just by reading their story on paper.

Thank you for spending time here.


  1. What a beautiful beautiful story! You are such a true *donor-centered* fundraiser in every sense of the word.

    I was reminded, too, of an incident that happened to me years ago when I was working as a development associate for a branch of a national girls organization. A memorial check came in for one of our camps in memory of a woman's daughter. A check of our RaisersEdge database revealed that this check came in every year. Despite that, though, there were no files and no institutional memory of how this particular cabin at this camp had been named for this woman's daughter. Staff members had come and gone for years and because this was not a huge donation ($100), it had gone largely unrecognized. It took a good deal of digging to reveal that the daughter had died in an accident at camp and a memorial fund was subsequently established. The policy of this organization was that gifts under $250 went unacknowledged.

    It takes work to look at your fundraising in the long-term - and real work to see your donors - EVERY donor - as people rather than dollar signs. Kudos to you!

  2. Aaah Pamela. Thanks. Aren't you sweet.

    Yes every donation has a story behind it. I particularly like the $5.00 cash we get sometimes with personal notes.

    We are certainly very privileged to be a small part of our donors decision to support our cause.

    Thanks for you comments. I Love them!

  3. Thanks for this reminder, Kimberly. It's all too easy to stay lost in the weeds. A post like this is a huge help in staying focused on what's really important.


  4. Dear Nancy,

    WOW! Welcome to my blog and thanks so much for your comment.

    Good to know my trenches stories are useful - even just a bit.


  5. Hi Kimberley,

    What a huge lesson in the ways people heal themselves and because you were able to recognize and affirm their story and their lives you have helped them to heal so much more. It is people like you that are helping the world to heal.

    Thank you for taking the time and the love needed to make a difference in the world.

    Much love,


  6. A wonderful story indeed. We put donors at the center of our fundraising not just because it works.

    We do it because these life-changing men, women and children deserve nothing less.

  7. Thanks Stacy for that very generous comment. I'm not sure fundraisers could take the credit for that but I appreciate your warm thoughts.

  8. Thank you David for your shining example. I have learned a lot from you and still remember our first meeting in Newmarket so many years ago. Now you are commenting on my BLOG! How cool is that?!

    Anyway - you are, as always. Right.

  9. Wow, that is an amazing story. It just shows that some people are motivated by things way beyond what meets the eye.

  10. Than you for sharing this story. I was a friend of Graeme's. He often drifts into my thoughts, especially now as April 23rd is approaching. For some reason I decided to Google his name, not expecting to find anything as the internet did not play a part in high school for us. Your blog and the legacy his parents have set up popped up on the screen. It warms my heart to be able to find sometihng written about him. Thank you.

  11. Dear Anonymous, I'm so glad that this story was here for you. Yes Graeme's life did make a difference and his memory will live on. A couple of years ago his parents and I planted a tree in Newmarket for him. I'm curious though how did you know this story was about him. I thought I was pretty savvy changing the names.

    1. I originally saw the article about what was set up by Gramae's parents in his memory, and it linked through to this story From the On Nature magazine, Graeme's full name and his parents' names were mentioned in that article. I posted that story for other friends to see, they are all appreciating reading it, especially today. Hard to believe it was 21 years ago. Thank you again for posting this. Christie