Thursday’s leftover turkey is now a sandwich staple. Black Friday has come and gone. And though the football marathon continues, next Thanksgiving is 363 days away.
Thanksgiving’s traditional definition goes something like this: Although bad things happen to us all, we have much for which to be grateful. To give thanks, we pause the fourth Thursday of each November with friends and family to acknowledge our blessings.
Nothing wrong with that. The important holiday – for many the year’s most treasured – first occurred in 1621 at Plymouth Plantation after the Pilgrims landed the previous year at Plymouth Rock. Though many lost their lives during the overseas journey from England, the Pilgrims gave thanks for a new home where they could worship as they chose.
Yet this is where the wordsmith, fundraiser and philanthropist in me scratches his head.
”Hmmm,” I said to my 11-year-old daughter Thursday morning as we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “Thanksgiving is great. But what if we thought about the holiday differently?”
The alternative definition could read: I’m thankful for all I have. To show my appreciation, I give. Not just one day a year or occasionally; I express thanks for my good fortune every day.
Time this weekend at Kate’s family farm in Brookfield, Mo. reminds me of her late grandmother, Lois Schofield. Grandma Scho, as we called her, continually gave to others. Until the day cancer won her over, she transported those who couldn’t drive to doctor’s appointments, the grocery store and other places they needed to be in the small north central Missouri town.
“The old ladies rely on me,” she told us one Sunday afternoon as she hurriedly left our house to make the two-hour drive home before sunset, by then well into her 80s. “I’ve got to take one of them to the doctor tomorrow morning.”
My late grandpa, Joe Beem, developed the hobby of woodworking to help him cope with the death of my biological father, Richard. Over the course of his ensuing years, he spent his spare time designing, building and giving clocks to those who’d done good things. Many Joe Beem clocks still hang in homes and offices, marking time with the same positive tempo that guided his life.
When I was finishing college and setting my career sites, two books persuaded me that professional fundraising was a worthy vocation. James Gregory Lord’s The Raising of Money: Thirty-Five Essentials Every Trustee Should Know pointed me to the opportunities volunteers and fundraisers have to connect philanthropists and organizations that advance their passions. And Douglas M. Lawson’s Give to Live: How Giving Can Change Your Life introduced me to giving’s physical, emotional and spiritual dividends.
Though they were active readers, I’m confident Grandma Scho and Grandpa Beem never laid eyes on Lord’s and Lawson’s books. But they did understand the excitement that comes from giving to things they cared about and the personal rewards philanthropy yields.
Like Grandma Scho and Grandpa Beem, each of us can express appreciation for the good things in life by giving – and inviting others to do the same. Worthy causes certainly need money, but volunteering time and lending expertise are also important.
Thanksgiving is almost a year way. But we can celebrate thanksgiving every day.
A big part of fundraising is showing up and being available. I learned this lesson on a very memorable New Year’s Eve, a very long time ago.
As an eager young fundraiser working for Washburn University, I didn’t know that it was unusual still to be at work in the evening of December 31st. But, there I was.
Earlier that year, a graduate of Washburn University School of Law told me he was going to give a gift of land to his synagogue, a private K-12 school and Washburn. John Shamberg, who has since passed away, made millions of dollars for institutions all over the world, and he wanted to give a significant gift to organizations he valued. His 40 acres of land on the outskirts of Kansas City were valued at $450,000, and his intention was to give $150,000 each to three organizations.
He’d left the task to the last day of the year, but now he was ready to make it happen.