Shortly after accepting Christ in high school, I started volunteering at the middle school Young Life ministry. I would go to the Young Life meeting on Monday nights and basically just hang out with middle school kids. I wasn’t the funniest or the best at connecting with the kids, but after a while, I found a role that was meaningful: I bought the cookies.
When I first started going to the meetings as a volunteer, I noticed the cheap cookies they served at the end. You know the kind of cookies I am talking about – you can get about a hundred of them for a dollar. I remember thinking to myself, We just told kids about God’s extravagant love, and now here we are offering them cheap dollar cookies.
I saw a need and I knew I could fill it. From then on, every Monday after school I would drive to the Entenmann’s bakery outlet and use the money I made over the weekend as a busboy to buy premium cookies. I got to use my gifts: obviously, the money I had made, but also my ability to find a good deal.
While I wasn’t giving a large sum of money, buying cookies for Young Life was the beginning of my journey of giving. You’ve probably heard people say that when people give money, the donor is transformed just as much the person whose life is being changed by the gift. In this case, I don’t think anyone’s life was radically changed because of the cookies. In fact, I wonder if the kids even noticed! But for me, the chance to use my gifts to make the whole experience better for the kids was transformational. It gave me a part to play.
As I teach people about fundraising, I often talk about the principle of ownership: People give when they’re involved and have a sense of ownership. I’m sure that when my Young Life leader heard my idea of buying better cookies, he simply thought, Sure, why not? I’m sure he didn’t realize that thirty years later, I would look back on this as a transformational moment – one of the ways I learned to use my gifts to build the kingdom of God.
As you do your work today, engaging with donors, I challenge you to think about this idea of ownership. How are you empowering donors to use their gifts? How are you encouraging them to take part and have a sense of ownership in the work you are doing? When you foster that sense of ownership, not only will you have better cookies…you will also likely have a donor for life! And by the way: I am still a donor to Young Life. 🙂