Early in my fundraising career, I served as a planned giving representative. In my new role, I wanted to meet, face to face, with every donor in my portfolio. I made calls to secure appointments and planned out a route that would allow me to visit with as many donors as I could in a matter of days. As I started down the list, one donor call had a particularly strong impression on me right from the start.

“Hello!” he answered, practically on the first ring. His voice was full of joy. You could hear his smile pouring through the phone. Over the years, he had made several significant gifts to our nonprofit using charitable gift annuities. I was curious about his giving, but now I was especially interested in learning more about him.

We chatted a while, but when I asked if he would see me, he said, “No.”

Was it something I’d said? Something I didn’t say? It was a mystery.

In another twist, he wasn’t in a hurry to get off the phone, and he continued to be incredibly pleasant and upbeat. Finally, I drummed up the courage to ask: “Have I done something wrong? Is there a reason you’re not willing to see me?”

There was a second of silence and, then, he broke out laughing with such hilarity, I couldn’t help chuckling, too. Still laughing, he explained: “Scott, I’m happy to have you come to my house, but I can’t see you. I’m blind! I can’t see anyone.” Apparently, this important bit of information had not been included in the donor notes.

I drove to his house, and we had a wonderful visit. In fact, he finalized it with a renewed gift annuity.

Memories of that donor always call to mind the well-known admonition to give what’s in one’s heart to give, “… not reluctantly or under compulsion …” but as a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7). Interestingly, the Greek word for cheerful is hilaros—also the root word for hilarious.

As a new fundraiser, I had a rigorous action plan, and I was seriously focused on achieving the goals. This donor gave me a new outlook on the power of philanthropy that has stayed with me for decades. His giving was not only cheerful, it was hilarious. From that point on, I made it a point to remind myself: Action plans are great, but outlook is everything.

R. Scott Justvig, CFRE
Executive Vice President