I recently read a little story in a philanthropy publication that touched me. It was about a surprise million-dollar gift given to a small church in a remote area of the country – a gift that far exceeded the church’s annual budget. The obvious surprise was that the donor was not really involved in the church and had definitely not advertised the fact that he was capable of giving a million-dollar gift. In fact, he was described as a recluse who lived in a portable home with no running water. He had apparently attended the church as a child.
But the real surprise for me was the disappointment I felt when the story shifted to a discussion on how the church was going to spend the money – a little over half of the article. They did include a sentence or two about the donor and his connection to the church, but I wanted to know more about him and the tribute he left to his mother, who had taught Sunday school there. Was he married or a father? Were there neighbors who knew him? What was his family like? How long had they lived in the community?
To be fair, perhaps there was no more of a story to tell. Perhaps he was so reclusive that no one had ever spoken with him. But this story reminds me of the importance of the connections we do make with our constituents, our donors, our volunteers, and our communities. This donor needed a way to leave a legacy and chose what may have been his only connection to the community. I’m glad the church was there for him and I hope the church finds a way to steward not only the gift, but the relationships formed as a result of this humble act of philanthropy.