Generosity, Stewardship and the Twilight Zone

This week, Friends at Western Yearly Meeting spoke much about Stewardship. Eden Grace was a guest speaker, and she shared some thoughts — mostly, that Stewards were people who cared for assets that they did not own, according to the instructions of the owner: Stewards are trustees.

Eden’s lectures made way for some more casual conversation. Within these conversations, I heard that many of us experience “stewardship” as a negative word, largely because when people talk about stewardship they mean fund raising. Those of us attached to the non-profit sector (i.e. everybody in the room), often needs to raise funds in order to maintain the properties and operations of the non-profit. Fund raising is, for almost all of us, challenging.

One of the members of this conversation was recently part of a capital campaign for a school. She spoke with potential donors about a project that the school was planing, and asked them for money, and she spoke of how joyful it can be to offer the opportunity to share in a project through donations.

This made caused me to remember something I saw on TV once. “I Dream of Genie” is an old episode of the Twilight Zone where George Hanley finds a magic lamp, is offered one wish, and considers wishing for love, money, or power — when he considers how he would live with that wish, he rejects all three.

When he imagines getting money, the college president of his alma mater is asked for a donation from his school to start a capital campaign. Instead of giving starting money, he writes a check for the entire amount. Surprisingly, the president refuses saying:

Thousands of alumni, not as successful, not as fortunate. But every bit as generous. Giving, sharing the burden and the satisfaction is the cement which binds their minds and hearts to our beloved alma mater. I can’t let you deprive them of the great privilege of giving.

This made me think about the privilege of giving. Through giving and sharing, we do start to feel a sense of ownership in the work of the non-profits that we support. In a way, we start to own the work — we feel connected and interested.

This week, nobody asked for money, we just talked about how to take care of the resources that are available, and how to best use them for their intended purpose. In the end, however, perhaps the most important resource that we share is the resource of those who are eager to be part of the work that we do. Our biggest resource is the ability to care for the mission of the group well enough that giving is a privilege.

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