Spotting a Philanthropist
By: Megan McGee, Associate Director UMFWPA
The following is the first of a series of three articles intended to help churches enhance the experience of their donors.
makes someone a philanthropist? Traditionally, we have come to
associate the title “philanthropist” with wealthy individuals who give
large sums of money to causes they support; famous figures like Andrew
Carnegie, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates. Every church wants one. What
many churches do not realize is that they may already have a
congregation full of them. And they may not be showing them the
gratitude they deserve.
My Great Aunt and Great
Uncle were both high school gym teachers. They lived in a tiny house in
Monroeville. They lived through the Great Depression and World War II
(my uncle serving under General Patton). They were humble and lived
frugally. Their basement was full of stockpiled canned goods and plastic
bags saved from trips to the grocery store. My Aunt never owned a
designer purse, she never drove a fancy car, she never wore expensive
jewelry, they never had new furniture or big screen televisions. To meet
her on the street one would never assume that she was well off. To hear
that she was a career teacher would confirm the improbability of such
When she passed away, her pastor
told this story at the funeral service. He said… Jeanne was helping out
at a church dinner around Christmastime. Another member of the
congregation commented how much she liked the holiday sweater that
Jeanne was wearing. She thanked the woman, a friend, and then
disappeared before reappearing wearing a different sweater. She was
carrying the holiday sweater in her hand and presented it to the woman
who had admired it, opting instead for a sweater from the lost and found
pile in the church office.
She was the epitome of a philanthropist.
defines a philanthropist as one “who makes an active effort to promote
human welfare”. That’s not bad, but I like to look to the ancient Greek
origin myself - someone who loves humankind. Someone who loves other
people and puts the welfare of others ahead of his or her own. That is
what Jesus did after all.
Gifts to others do
not need to be monetary and even philanthropists who do make monetary
gifts to their church often give in many other ways - their time,
resources and skills, in-kind donations (clothing, food) - sometimes
these non-monetary donations are just as valuable, if not more valuable
than the donation of funds. Why? Because they make the bonds within the
I should also probably
mention that when my aunt passed away she bequeathed to her alma mater
the largest legacy gift in that University’s history. It was used to
establish a scholarship fund for students like those she had taught and
cared for deeply as a teacher. She also donated significant amounts to
her church, to Phipps Conservatory, and to the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG
But these monetary gifts were not
what truly made her a philanthropist. It was her love of others, her
love of her church, her love of God, all coming before herself.
types of philanthropists deserve to have the “philanthropic experience”
and many times the experience gained through the donation of time,
effort, and maybe a little holiday cheer setting up Christmas dinner,
will lead to monetary donations - because serving together creates a
feeling of community and kinship among active members of the
congregation, it brings non-active members into the group, it inspires
further generosity and provides an example to other members to also
serve and also give.
To inspire future
philanthropy, it is necessary to ensure that philanthropists of all
kinds experience the feelings of appreciation, inclusion, and love that
they inspire in others.
If you would like to
learn more about cultivating new donors or creating plan for donor
appreciation within your church community, contact the United Methodist
Foundation at 412-232-0650.
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