Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Doing Something I Love - Eleanor Shepherd
As I drove back to Montreal from some successful donor meetings in southern Ontario, with my colleague, I reflected on how much I enjoy the work that I do in philanthropy.
In the three years since we retired from The Salvation Army and returned to Montreal, I have been working in philanthropy with Health Partners International of Canada and Opportunity International Canada. What I have discovered is that I love this work and it gives me so many opportunities for meaningful ministry.
When I express my enthusiasm for the work that I do in philanthropy, people shake their heads, wondering if they have heard me correctly or if I really am telling the truth. I do love working in philanthropy.
I think the reason that people fail to understand my enthusiasm for what I do, is rooted in a common misconception of what philanthropy is. Often I get the idea that people view philanthropists or fund-raisers as people who plead with others to do something that they do not want to do – part with their hard-earned money. This does not describe what I do. If it did, I would run from it as far and as fast as I could.
I will never forget one of my first donor meetings. Walking into the office of Mary I felt a little intimidated. As she stepped out from behind her desk to welcome me she offered a hand with nails beautifully manicured, a warm smile lit her immaculately made up fine features, complemented by her stylish hairdo. As we talked together over the next forty-five minutes, I discovered a businesswoman with a heart for God and for the poor. As I shared with her some of the things that we were doing, she responded with compassion. The goal of the meeting for me was to get to know her, so that I could determine how she might want to become involved in the work we were doing. To my surprise, before I left the office, she reached for her chequebook and made a donation on the spot.
What then is philanthropy? For me it is an opportunity to provide a double blessing. It is a way that I can open doors of opportunity for two different sets of people. The first set of people whose lives I can affect are those whom our organizations exist to serve. Sometimes those served are the sick who are recipients of medicines, vaccines or medical equipment in the developing world channelled by Health Partners International of Canada, and brought by volunteer doctors who hold clinics in rural towns. Other times we serve the women entrepreneurs who have banded together in trust groups, as they have each created a micro-enterprise with the loans that they have received from Opportunity International. Throughout the world there are thousands of organizations made up of groups of people whose hearts have been touched by the needs of others. In response to those needs, concrete steps taken to address them include standing alongside seeking to offer resources that can help to alleviate the difficulties.
These are the first people that I am able to bless as I succeed in bringing in donations that allow the non-profit organization to fulfill its mission. Another equally important group of people I am able to help through my philanthropic work is the donors. I have discovered that when I provide an opportunity for people to engage in the work that is being done by a charitable organization, I give them the privilege of being involved in something good that brings them great joy and satisfaction. To help someone see how it is possible to change the life of another by giving hope is a wonderful gift. I give that gift when I expose people to what we are doing in parts of the world that they may have heard about on the news. With a sigh, they turn off the television, feeling helpless and inadequate in the face of problems that seem insurmountable.
I do not deny that those I approach about becoming involved in the work that I am doing may react with scepticism or mistrust. They should ask questions about what we are doing and as charitable organizations we must be open and honest, taking the time to answer questions people raise about what we do and how we do it. We need to treat our donors with the same respect and dignity we show to those we serve.
The secret that we are able to share with our donors is what God is doing in our world. We can show examples of the way that through ordinary people who care He is showing His love in so many different situations. Then we can invite them to participate in what God is doing. That is a noble calling and I love being a part of something like that.