Somewhere, Out There…In a Call Center

December 6th, 2013 by Penelope Burk

I attended university with someone who became a professional actor. We have been friends for over 40 years. Somewhere along the way, he married an artist. An actor and a painter – an amazing love affair but not the most likely formula for financial security.

In the rollercoaster ride that is life in the arts, my actor-friend treasured the good years and gave back when he could. For several years when he had a recurring role on a successful TV show, my friend sponsored a child overseas for $35 a month. As artists do, he felt a visceral and emotional connection with the child and her family that his and his wife’s contributions were supporting.

Everyone knows that success is a fleeting thing but artists live that reality every day. It was inevitable, then, that the TV show came to an end and my friend’s run of good luck evolved into an even longer run of the opposite — too many auditions, too few call-backs and even fewer paid gigs.

The household budget was revised and revised again to accommodate shrinking income until, finally, the $35 a month sponsorship was moved from the essential to the optional column. The payments could simply no longer be made. A new level of anxiety was added to my friend’s already stressful life as he worried about what would become of the child and her family that he had come to care about so deeply.

About 90 days later, a representative from the not-for-profit called to remind my friend that three payments had been missed.  Wracked by sorrow and guilt, he tried to explain why he and his wife would have to suspend their sponsorship. The caller listened quietly and, at just the right moment, gently interrupted.

First, I want you to know that your foster child and her family are fine. We have a reserve fund that ensures that sponsorship will not be interrupted if a donor is unable to continue his or her support. Please do not worry. But, equally important, I want you to know how grateful we are for the generous donations you have provided over several years. You came along just when your child needed help the most. You gave her and her whole family a new start in life.

The caller’s kind words and sincere understanding lifted the stress from my friend’s overburdened shoulders.

That was twenty years ago. Since then, my actor/artist friends have had more than their share of financial ups and downs, but today they are enjoying a modest but more stable existence. Earlier this week, I was at their house for dinner and, it being the season of giving, the conversation turned to philanthropy. He told me this story and that now they could once again afford to give back by making charitable contributions. I asked them about their interests and which lucky charity or charities would be getting their support.

“There is no debate about that,” my friend said. “We will be loyal forever to the sponsorship agency that was there for us when we could no longer be there for them.”

So, here’s to the dedicated fundraisers who start work each evening in call centers all over North America just as the rest of us are going home. And, a special thank you to the exemplary ones at the top of their field who have the presence of mind to go off-script and give a donor encouragement and support when he or she needs it most.

Posted in Donor-Centered Fundraising, Fundraising

15 Responses

  1. Bryan Webber

    Wonderful. Great story of relationship building. Thanks for sharing Penelope.

  2. Rose McIlvane

    That was so lovely Penelope. We met at two Planned Parenthood conferences. I was at the one in Seattle this past August. I’m the Director, Major Gifts at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England (PPSNE). I’ve been with PPSNE for 15 years. It is a labor of love to raise funds for this wonderful organization and the many women and families we serve. I am blessed. Thank you so much for thinking of all the fundraisers across the country. Wishing you peace and joy during this holiday season. Rose McIlvane

  3. Chris Tallackson

    A great tribute to dedicated development colleagues – thanks!

  4. Pearl Wolfe

    Thanks, Penelope. Too true. We are under construction to add 10 more rooms! We miss you.

  5. Marcia Funke

    Penelope,

    What a heartfelt article, and how inspiring! I will share this at work to further inspire my co-workers. Thank you!

  6. Cathi Duchon

    Nice story, Penelope. It is a reminder of the impact we all can have.
    Thanks.

  7. Karen Kinne-Herman

    What a wonderful reminder that, when we remember that each donor is a real, individual human with heart, good things follow. Thank you for sharing this story, Penelope, and for helping us to maintain that person-to-person connection. Happy holidays.

  8. Sarah Guthrie

    Beautifully written. Thank you.

  9. Andrew Gunn-Wilinski

    Penelope, Thank you for sharing this story. It is a reminder of the impact little acts of understanding, support and kindness can have on a person. Again, thanks for sharing.

    Happy Holidays!

  10. Lisa Valvasori

    Thank you Penelope. These inspirational stories make us all better fundraisers! Relationship building is the key!

  11. Cliff Hazel

    Thank you, Penelope. I really enjoy your stories. As usual, great work. thank you for sharing. Happy holidays!

  12. Lorri Greif, CFRE

    Thank you Penelope. Great story and exactly why I love raising money from people rather than institutions. All charitable giving is so important, but I’ve found that gifts from the heart touch both the gifter and the recipient.

  13. Beth Proven

    Penny, you are a master story-teller. Thank you for this little treasure. Have a wonderful holiday!

  14. Marilyn Sammons

    Thank you for your story and reminder to really listen and be ready to move ‘off script’ no matter the circumstances.
    I heard you speak at the Vancouver International AFP Conference, have your books and have enjoyed several webinars too!

  15. sadia

    Such a wonderful reminder and story! Giving is about people connecting and giving in different kinds of ways. Sometimes we give money, and sometimes we give a smile, a kind word or encouragement. Thank you.

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