Last year I wrote a short piece for my daughter’s school’s Annual Giving campaign. It’s that time of year again and I’ve been thinking about that a lot — perhaps it is worth sharing. Here’s the letter:

Dear fellow Juniper parents,

While we are all getting ready for Thanksgiving and the upcoming Holiday season, please allow me a few minutes to tell you a story about why I’m a supporter of the Woodinville Montessori School Annual Giving campaign.

My Father was the one who taught me about philanthropy. Of course, he never sat me down and said “let me teach you about philanthropy…” — I don’t think he ever did that about any subject. But when I was ten years old or so, he did something that continues to inspire me.

There was a meeting of the congregation at my church — a rather unremarkable place with a well-meaning group of people who were confronting the financial reality that their available budget didn’t quite match their ambition. The budget fell rather short, actually, to the point that it was clear that business as usual would not be possible. I remember one man getting up to speak — his name was John Baron, if I recall correctly, though he was “Mr. Baron” to me — and he laid out the unpleasant facts. There was not enough money to pay the pastor and fix the roof and maintain the plumbing and pay the heating bill and tend to the long list of all the other necessary expenses. The Church Council did not want to make the difficult choices about what to cut. He pleaded for people to give more money to the church. “We’ve got to give until it hurts!” he said.

It was all true, of course. No one could dispute the facts. The assessment was grim. The room was awkward and silent.

Then my Father stood up and walked to the front of the room and turned to face everyone. And he broke out in a big grin. He began, “Well, John, I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with you.” The tension in the room was incredible. “If it is really going to cause you pain, John, I’d like you to keep your money. In fact, I don’t want anybody to feel bad about giving to the congregation — instead, I’d like people to feel good about the contribution they can make.” You could hear people exhaling as the mood got suddenly lighter. My Father went on talk about how proud he was to be part of such a fine organization that did such good work, that he saw the dedication of the people who volunteered there, that he saw the difference it had made in people’s lives. Joy spilled from his face as he said that when he wrote a check to the church, it made him feel great to be able to support such a worthy charity, that he would feel worse if his gift was any smaller. “No,” he said, “nobody should give until it hurts — you should give until it feels good!”.

The laughter that echoed through the room at that moment didn’t change the fact that the church was facing financial uncertainty. But suddenly it seemed like people were happy to be there. Happy to contribute what they could. Happy to help each other weather the crisis. Happy to know that their contribution was needed.

It is really quite a simple lesson: ‘You should feel good about being able to support a valuable institution’. I remember it whenever I write a check to support the places that I care about, and I feel great about being able to make my contribution to Woodinville Montessori School. It is a place you should feel very, very good about supporting. Make your contribution to the Annual Giving program today. Your tax deductible gift will support the great work of teachers and administrators who make sure that our children receive the highest quality education.

Thank you,