I was in a meeting the other day and we were discussing donor recognition and the importance of acknowledging and honoring all gifts to campaigns regardless of the size of the gift.  As the conversation was winding down, a campaign volunteer named Ed offered a story that demonstrated the importance of the point I was trying to make.

Ed related that he once served as a volunteer for the court system in Jackson, Michigan.  He served alongside Charlie, a fellow volunteer, helping perform simple duties for the local judges.  One day, as Ed appeared at the court for his regular volunteer hours, he was told that Charlie had passed away unexpectedly over the weekend.  Furthermore,  Charlie died without heirs and the local judge, knowing of Ed and Charlie’s friendship, asked Ed to serve as the executor of Charlie’s will.

After some thought, Ed agree to honor Charlie’s memory by serving as the executor of his estate plan.  Ed was convinced that it would be a simple task since Charlie was a man of modest means who had retired from a teaching job years earlier.  Image Ed’s surprise when he learned that Charlie had several million in assets!

Ed initially asked the local judge to be relieved of his duties as executor, since he didn’t think he was properly prepared to help with such a large estate, but the judge insisted that Ed continue in his role and over the next two years, Ed found himself writing checks to various charities in accordance with Charlie’s wishes.  Many of the checks were for $25,000 to a number of local organizations.  However, the largest check Ed wrote from Charlie’s estate was for $1.75 million to the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital, Charlie’s favorite charity.

As Ed told the story, he was trying to make a simple point: you never know who your largest donors might be.  Charlie was a simple man of apparently modest means.  Yet, over his lifetime, he accumulated a small fortune that eventually found its way to charity.

Lesson:  treat every donor like gold….they just may be a quiet, secret millionaire who can transform your charitable organization someday.