Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Sweetest Dollar

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of taking part in the latest installment of the regional organization that is trying to transform our community. At the end of the presentation, I stood at our communications team table to help answer questions on how our citizens can get involved.

I can say with confidence that I met some pretty interesting people. Diverse would be a great word to use when it came to the crowd that lingered. For a few hours, our river ceased to serve as a boundary and a barrier. I drove into a neighborhood where I had never been, and although I got lost and selfishly questioned why the event had to take place on a street I'd never driven down, I also appreciated the opportunity to walk out of my east side world and into someone else's west side life. For one December afternoon, we were one community made up of concerned, yet dedicated citizens.

After speaking with a few different men on the crime that's plaguing mainly "their streets" they stated, the lack of entrepreneurial opportunities given on the west side, and their commitment to teach the young men within their circle of influence that there's more to life than violence and crime, along came Jim.

Jim was gentle natured and carried with him a stack of the event's complimentary Christmas cookies wrapped delicately in a napkin "for his better half". "These will be a nice treat for her" he told me after offering me one. I thanked him and told him that she deserved all of those treats and that I would grab one as I left. We spoke for roughly twenty minutes about Rockford, his life and his many involvements in the community and church. It appeared to me that maybe he had suffered a stroke at some point in his life as his speech was a bit labored and I struggled at times to make out his words, but that didn't slow down the conversation. Jim was an open book.

When he turned the tables to me and asked the easy get to know you questions, I shared that I was born and raised in Rockford, had moved to South Carolina for 16 years, and was now back and working at the College to raise scholarship dollars to support our local students. Without a moment's hesitation, he reached for his wallet. Never in my 12 years of college fundraising have I had someone reach for their wallet when I shared my title and role. Most people start to decrease the lack of eye contact and back away slowly for fear of me making the dreaded "ask" of them. Not Jim. Jim took that as an invitation.

Jim quietly flipped through his very worn wallet and I could see that there were not many dollars to be shared. I immediately tried to stop him by sharing that "it was so very generous and thoughtful, but he did not need to do that." Regardless of my hesitance, he passed by 2 other bills before choosing his third $1.00 to give to me and ultimately to the College. I was beyond humbled. Once more I tried to give it back but he simply said "please put it in the kitty." And so I did on Monday morning when I arrived to the office. And when I explained to our gift processor why I had a $1 cash gift from Jim (with no last name) to put toward scholarship dollars, her eyes welled up with gratitude. As did mine for the second time since possessing that dollar bill.

With over a decade of this profession under my belt and years of working through a $100 million dollar campaign, writing appeal letters that have raised over $500,000, and assisting couples establish $30K endowments, it is selfless gifts like Jim's $1 bill that make me love what I do. Large gifts make the blood pump a bit faster and the "gift gong" chime a bit louder, but gifts where you know without a doubt that you've just witnessed a sacrifice, those are what makes the heart grow bigger and tears come a bit more readily. Those are the gifts that I'll remember for a lifetime. They aren't "go away" gifts, but gifts that say "I don't have much to give, but your cause is important to me and I want to help."

To Jim, my new favorite donor and non-greedy, cookie smuggler, thank you for making me appreciate my job a little bit more than I already did. Thank you for the students who will benefit from your small, yet impactful gift. And thank you for allowing me to walk away from a transformation-focused event with a little extra "belief" that with committed citizens like you, we just might be able to turn this town around. One act of kindness and one ounce of generosity at a time, if we're all willing to put a little bit in our "kitty" together.

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