The presenter from a local Catholic school was scheduled to talk about 'Donor Stewardship' or 'how to maintain a great relationship with your donors'. He proceeded to tell how he went about making one of his school donors feel thanked and valued for their $50 donation.
An elderly lady had made a $50 donation in response to a Fundraising Appeal that the school mailed out. The woman's late husband had been a student at the school many year's earlier, and during his lifetime he had spoken with great fondness of the school. It was for this reason that his widow took the decision to make the donation.
The presenter phoned to thank the lady for her donation and then arranged to personally deliver her receipt when he was in her neighbourhood later that day. Subsequent to this single, relatively small donation and home-visit the presenter maintained ongoing contact with the woman. They went on to develop a great rapport and spent many hours conversing over topics of shared interest.
As this friendship between the two evolved, the presenter learnt more and more about the donor. She was a single child whose parents had died years earlier. Her deceased husband had also been a single child and his parents too were deceased. When he had died only three people had attended his funeral; his wife, the priest and a fellow student from his youth who he had also shared a hospital ward with at the end of his life. The man's wife was quite distressed that her husband had been so alone in his death and she too felt the loneliness and isolation as she singularly prepared his funeral.
During this same period, the woman had learnt more and more about the school her husband had attended. She learnt about the scholarship program it provided for disadvantaged children in the community who otherwise would never have the opportunity to access the benefits of a private school. She learnt that many of the children who were beneficiaries of this scholarship were the first in their families to complete their secondary schooling and progress to university.
It was through this increased awareness about the scholarship program that the woman had been inspired to make a significant bequest in her will to support the program. She chose to tell the school of her intended bequest. It was understandable that the school was very grateful for her commitment and in return offered to provide her with any assistance she may need at any stage; mindful that she was quite isolated in her community.
As the women become increasingly more frail she gradually needed more and more help around her home and so she often called on the school for help. The calls for help included requests to remove a dead possum from the garage, re-pot plants, assist with hospital visits, and arrange private at-home care as she became increasingly unwell with cancer.
As a qualified doctor, the woman knew when her time was near, and one of the final requests she made of the school was to arrange for her to be baptised. The request came as a great surprise to the Catholic school, as they had assumed that because the woman was in her 80's and had lived through an era where it was usual practice for every child to be baptised, she would have already been baptised. When asked what had prompted her to get baptised as an 80+ year old, the woman replied:
"At the late stage in my life when I was alone and lonely after the death of my husband and with all my family gone, I witnessed what Christian faith is through the actions of my friends at the school. They restored and inspired my faith."
Hearing her response brings me to the verge of tears. I am quite sure this is what Jesus meant when he told us to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 22 verse 39). Thoroughly inspiring!
The words on a t-shirt I saw beautifully sum up the essence of this story and how they relate to Jesus' words and instructions to us: "Don't go to church, be the church." (putyourfaithinaction.org).
Merewyn Foran is married and a marketing director of a not for profit homelessness agency in Melbourne.
Merewyn Foran's archive of previous articles can be found at www.pressserviceinternational.org/merewyn-foran.html