Friday, March 27, 2009
So Little Time
It was striking to me every time I walked in to Millicent’s room at the Kingsway Arms assisted living community.
There were pictures of smiling young children in frames on her dresser. On the wall there were drawings in crayon. There was a Christmas card displayed on a small table, and next to the card was a wedding picture. Hanging prominently on the wall was a plaque which told the story of Millicent’s distinguished career – service over four decades to five different college presidents – and her astonishing gift to the college she served.
The smiling young children on the wall were my children; the pictures covered about six years.
The crayon drawings on the wall had been sent to her by my kids.
The Christmas card, still standing on the table though my visit was in April, was from my family.
The wedding picture was from my wedding in 1990; my visit this day was the first really warm day in April of 2001. I no longer worked for the college that Millicent has so generously cared for.
Although I still came to see Millicent, these days she did not recognize me at first. This day was no different. She showed me each picture and each drawing as if she and I were seeing them together for the very first time.
Then she told me the story behind the plaque, eyes bight with tears as she remembered the party that was thrown in her honor. I interrupted her at this point and said, “and do you remember walking down the stairs with President Williams on one arm and me on the other?” She smiled a huge smile, and now she would make me tear up as she grabbed my arm tight and said, “Oh, of course I do! And I said, ‘shall we dance?’ What a wonderful day!” And Millie was back.
She had no family left, save her family from the college. The staff of Kingsway Arms told me that my visits were now the only visits she received (and since I had moved to the area, the college knew that I was going and I kept them informed).
Sometimes we take time for granted. There’s really so little of it in the 100 or less years God gives us. So this friendship with Millicent and the time we gave to her, in retrospect, may have been some of the most precious minutes of her life. And the minutes she gave us changed ours.
Millie passed the next year. And as they took the photos down, and the drawings from the walls, there was a reminder there. We have so little time; remember to spend some of it in unconditional, perhaps unconventional ways, on those who need it most.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
As part of the Points of Light program, CASE (the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) and other groups suggested that Americans "Give 5." 5% of their time, 5% of their income.
For several years now I've used this concept in training and orientation sessions for new Trustees and volunteers (as well as presentations for other non-profit groups). What a wonderful concept it is -- more relevant today than ever before -- and just think how well the Third Sector would be doing if everyone made a commitment to make Give 5 part of their lives!
In simmering the pot a bit, and reducing the recipe to the local level, I added three questions that I think we have to consider here at Glens Falls Hospital. Perhaps they'll ring true for you as well.
Why would someone choose to give their five to us? Sorry folks, but this is not a case of "if we build it they will come." Rather, the most important part of what we do, perhaps, is to consider the why and craft a great case. I'm not talking about a fancy case statement -- I mean the case that becomes the reason, the promise to the community that resonates and says, "this is why," to those we seek to involve.
Where is a natural next question for our potential friends and contributors. If they understand why, we find ways to bring them even closer by getting to know them and their interests. Getting to know them and their interests. These are friendships we are talking about -- sure they are friendships with an agenda, and there is no shame in that. If we learn as much as we can about our friends, then we can help make their experience as donors to our organization the best they have ever had. That means helping them explore where to lend a hand, and enjoying the exploration with them. Remember, ownership plus a contribution equals a lifetime of giving to your organization.
How? Let's be sure we make it easy and give our friends lots of choices. We will take their check, or their on-line gift, we'll take their credit card -- of course we'll do all those things. But have you taken the time to understand how important other types of gifts can be? If I've learned nothing else over the course of my career, it is that giving is a very personal thing. Now is a great time for development professionals to think in terms of Charitable Gift Annuities. Have you reached out to your current donors and potential donors to let them know about your program? Look for creative ways to structure pledges, and always seek ways to make it as easy as possible for your best friends to say "yes."
Perhaps this all sounds simple to you....well, that's great! Obviously you are considering these questions every day. On the other hand, I could use a reminder every now and again.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Moira Black was a pretty amazing lady. Living on her own into her 90’s in South Florida, she was fond of going out to eat, loved to discuss great books and poetry, and had outlived two influential and doting husbands. The first a physician, well loved in the community, and who had the vision to start the first primary care clinic regionally, and then the health center at a local college. The second had been the CEO of an influential institution, and had gone on to international renown as a scholar. She insisted that I not call her Mrs. Black, but Moira, because she liked the sound of her name (pronounced like someone from Boston might say, “Mirror”).
Now, Moira was considering a gift that would be transformational in it both its size and scope. She was poised and ready, she had decided which assets to use, and she was enthusiastic about what her gift would do.
And yet the days turned into weeks and the weeks to months as she avoided making a final transfer of the funds.
I called her up and said, “Moira, imagine this! I have to be in South Florida next week. Could I stop by and take you to dinner?” She was thrilled to have company….so I booked my trip.
After a wonderful meal on a day that had to be the hottest August day in the history of South Florida (I was a wilted mess, my suit crumpled, sweat on my brow, and exhausted. Moira was prim, beautiful, and seemed totally unbothered by the heat) – I drove Moira back to her gated community and we retreated (thankfully!) to the air-conditioned comfort of her decidedly Adirondack style apartment.
Some small talk and a couple of cups of coffee later, I asked her very directly about the gift she was planning to make. “Moira, I know you want to do this. The fund you are establishing will help young women at our college for years to come. You’ve discussed this with your family and your financial advisers. May I ask what’s troubling you?”
What she told me changed the way I think about money forever.
“You know,” she said, “all my life I was well cared for. Both of my husbands were generous, and I wanted for nothing. And they were generous to the community, too, and often gave gifts that were from us as a couple. But…well…it was always their money. They made it. They invested it. They gave it away.”
She paused for a very long time. She was smiling, and she was teary – clearly these were not unpleasant memories. When she spoke again she looked right into my eyes.
“This time it’s my money, Ray. I took my own money and invested it, and I watched it grow over the years. I was prudent, but not too conservative – and I called the shots. This endowment fund is what I want to do, but it is hard to let go of something that feels so personal, so much a part of who I am, and maybe the only thing I actually did all on my own in my adult life.”
As I drove to my hotel that evening, and all the way home on the flight the next day, I kept replaying what she had said to me, and reflecting on how it was changing my concept of money, and in particular how this interaction with Moira was so very different from any I had ever had with a man considering a gift.
The next day, in the parking lot at the local department store, her financial adviser called me on my cell phone. We made the arrangements for the transfer, and to this day young women are benefitting – and will benefit long after I am gone – thanks to Moira’s generosity.
Moira passed recently and the entire story leapt once again into my brain. Hers was a generosity not only of dollars, and spirit – it was a gift of her very essence, a gift almost beyond measure. How grateful I am to have been part of it.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
A Red Amaryllis
(Ray’s Note: As I talk about my friends and their extraordinary gifts, I’ll be using names that I think fit them, but these are not their real names.)
There is a red Amaryllis in the window, eagerly consuming the late winter sun.
“Mrs. Sage always had a red Amaryllis, and she always gave one to us. So her family brought us this flower for Christmas this year. And I guess that’s that,” says my friend. Carla and her husband Gene now live in Mrs. Sage’s house. When Carla has clearly finished her time with a subject, she closes that portion of the conversation with “and I guess that’s that.” It’s not abrupt or dismissive; rather, she uses the phrase as a segue. In music I would call it a modulation to a new key, a new theme about to be explored.
Carla bought the house from Mrs. Sage while she was still alive. Although she won’t go into great detail, here is what I know. Mrs. Sage was quite elderly and on a fixed income. Carla bought the house herself, and then Mrs. Sage continued to live there for the rest of her life. She died in her 90’s about 18 months ago, and once Mrs. Sage’s family had settled everything and moved her things, Carla and Gene decided the house “felt right” – and so they moved in.
But in my heart, I know that Carla decided to take care of Mrs. Sage and be sure that she could live out her life in the home she loved.
Gene is a retired school teacher, as is Carla. They met and fell in love late in life and Gene is a few years older than Carla. They were part of NY State’s wonderful Tier I retirement system – something that no longer exists, but those who retired as part of this system count themselves among the luckiest retirees in the country. He’s happy and very much in love with Carla. It's Gene's second marriage (he lost his first love to cancer), and he glows when he talks about his daughter from his first marriage and her family. Hannah moved back from Florida to this small North Country town where she was raised (and where her father taught her in school).
Gene has had some tough times health-wise of late, and so he’s been spending a lot of time in our hospital. He’s home now, though, and when I arrived for our visit he was busy working at his desk. Mrs. Sage loved the sunlight, so there are beautiful skylights throughout the house, spilling natural sunshine and making the woodstove warmed great room more cheery than it has a right to be on this frigid morning. His hands are bruised still from the infusion therapy, but he is clearly happy.
Carla is a cancer survivor. She was treated in our own C.R. Wood Cancer Center and it was a terrible battle back to health. But, as Carla will tell you, “every battle against cancer is s terrible battle.”
“Everyone is so caring, so good,” she says thinking of Gene's recent care. “I am so thankful you (meaning our hospital) are there for us; for everyone in our community.”
What’s left unsaid – unsaid because that’s just how Carla is – is that her community is 65 miles across winding Adirondack roads from Glens Falls Hospital. And she also chooses not to go into the fact that she has organized her friends and neighbors to be sure that folks from her town that have to travel to our hospital for infusion therapy such as chemotherapy, or for regular appointments of any kind, have a ride and a companion over the long haul to Glens Falls.
She is a woman of great faith, with the words of faith from her holy book stitched, etched, and painted on various items throughout her home.
And she has great financial savvy. Another of her own organizations is the women’s investment club she started. “I have been so blessed in so many ways,” she intones, almost reverently. “I just want to share.”
My visit was to put the finishing touches on her most recent major gift to our hospital. As I said, she’s a very savvy investor, and so we’ve wrapped up a very generous gift annuity – her third. “It benefits all concerned, doesn’t it?” she asks rhetorically. I can’t help but smile, knowing Rotary International founder Paul Harris would be proud.
We sit down to lunch, and Gene’s daughter Hannah has joined us. Salad, home made baked beans, and an apple crisp brought by a neighbor. Carla bows her head and expresses her thanks for all she has, and we enjoy our meal. And I somehow feel the red Amaryllis in the window is sending a message to Mrs. Sage that all is well.
And I guess that’s that.
Monday, March 2, 2009
To say we live in a challenging time would be the understatement of this young year. My job is to garner support in dollars, people, and other resources to help a large, rural, community hospital in Upstate NY go about the great work it does -- saving lives, preventing illness, protecting our beautiful part of the country by always being prepared for the next major disaster (while praying that it never comes). We do that by telling our story, building relationships, and asking people to join us -- join us as soldiers for good health by bestowing upon us a gift. Usually that gift is monetary, but as often as not it is a gift of time, or of expertise, or perhaps it's just the gift of a good word about what we do.
And, of course, these challenging times makes the acquisition of these gifts a most interesting process.
Over the course of the next few weeks I plan to tell you how we go about our work. Why it is so uplifting and astonishing to be an active and enthusiastic worker bee in the Third Sector, and to ask for your comments, suggestions, advice and criticism. I'll try to share what we do -- well -- in ways that peel back the humanity and emotional connection of gift giving, not so much by analyzing the technical aspects of campaigning, scheduling calls, or prospect research (and yes, all that stuff's important). Along the way I'll probably comment on why it is I've spent my entire working life doing what it is we do.
It's March 2, 2009 -- we have two pretty important projects underway -- one for a new health center in an under served part of our region, the other for a renewal of our surgical services program. We're a little bit behind, but enthusiastically (maybe even brashly) confident about the former, and have secured a large, soon-to-be-announced challenge grant for the latter. As always, my glass is half full.
Stay tuned, please. Chime in often. Let me know what makes you an artful asker.