The Unexpected Mercedes

In St. Augustine, where I live, there is an amazing organization called St. John’s Council on Aging (SJCOA). The SJCOA mainly serves the older population in our county, people 65 years and older. In Florida, this represents about 25% of our local population. The organization has a huge budget and provides vital services like Meals on Wheels, a countywide bus system, and day centers for the elderly. While the majority of our clients at The FOCUS Group are explicitly faith-based, this client is not. But the mission of The FOCUS Group is to build the Kingdom of God, and certainly, God calls us to care for the widows and orphans (James 1:27). So working with the Council on Aging fits in very well with our mission.

As we began working with the Council on Aging, we noticed that historically, they had not taken a “major donor approach” to fundraising. Don’t get me wrong; they had done an excellent job fundraising using the traditional methods. They have a fabulous gala, an inspiring Christmas event, and multiple other annual fundraising events.

Over the last six months, I have had the opportunity of walking alongside them as they implement the Taking Donors Seriously approach to fundraising with major donors. It has been thrilling to watch the Executive Director and the Development Director begin to embrace people around the mission, rather than simply inviting people to events.

Recently the Development Director and I met for coffee. Reflecting on his work, he said, “After the Major Donor Symposium, I made a commitment to meet face to face with one donor a week and to ask them their story. Having gone through the Taking Donors Seriously training, I knew that I shouldn’t start by asking them for money, but I should just meet them and get to know them better. So I did. And then, as I met with one of our donors for the first time, he not only told me his story, but he gave me his Mercedes.”

“What?” I said. “He gave you his Mercedes?!?!”

“Yes,” he said, excited. “I got together with the donor, and after I sat and listened to him tell me his story about why he gives to the SJCOA, he asked me if I would like his Mercedes.” Apparently, the man shared his story and then simply offered to give away a car that he no longer needs.

The moral of the story is not that if you spend time with your donors, they will give you exotic foreign cars. Rather, I want to suggest that there is impressive, amazing power in simply spending time with your donors. My experience is exactly like the experience that I just related: that when we spend time asking our donors their stories and engage people in meaningful conversations, things that we never dream or imagine will happen will happen.


If you want to hear more about this story, listen to the Taking Donor Seriously Podcast where I further explain this story.

PS. The car pictured above is not the actual car…but the donated one was very nice.

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