Giving while Living

Written by Patrick Fitzpatrick

I recently visited an elderly man who has been a long time supporter of my school.  I was excited to share with him that we had been given a $1,250,000 gift.  Part of the gift was meant for some needed renovations, but the bulk of this gift was seed money for the construction of our new Activity Center, a multi-purpose room with a state of the art gymnasium and a beautiful stage.  The total build with new bathrooms, a gorgeous foyer, paved and expanded parking, and additional classroom space totaled about $4,000,000.  I was hoping he would jump in with both feet.  I was hoping that the seed money, the largest single gift in our school’s history, would inspire him to invest.

His reaction was less than enthusiastic.  “Pat,” he quipped, “I love the school, but I am not going to give to this project.  You won’t be able to get enough money for this project to come to fruition.  And besides, I have your school in my will for so much money that if I told you how much, you would hire a hit man.”

“I don’t want you to die,” I quickly retorted. “Instead, I want you to think about doing your giving while you’re living.  That way you will be able to witness firsthand how your investment will bless the school community.”

Without a moment of hesitation, the elderly man declined again, and following some other niceties I was off with my tail between my legs.

I understand this gentleman’s refusal on several levels, not the least of which was the fact that my school had experienced two failed capital campaigns in the last thirty years.  For those who invested in these past failures I completely understand the hesitancy.  Investors need to believe in not only the vision but also the school’s ability to execute the vision.

Fast forward several months and our school had been blessed with a $750,000 gift, two $250,000 gifts, and two $100,000 gifts bringing the total raised for the Activity Center to a whopping $2,450,000.  The excitement was palpable. We were getting closer to our goal, and I thought I should reach out to my elderly friend again.  I know he had said no, but part of his reluctance was based on his fear that we would not be able to raise sufficient funds to turn our vision into a reality.

My second visit with my friend went as badly as the first visit.

He reminded me of the money our school would get upon his death, and I challenged him to do his giving while he was living.  While he didn’t change in his resolution, he did volunteer to help me find the money.  With his help, we organized several meet and greets with past school board members and shared our vision with them.  More money followed these meetings with a few of the past board members giving gifts that totaled approximately $100,000.

Our collaborative work on this project started to stir his heart.  I could see his passion for the project slowly increase.  At one point I remember sharing with my wife that I didn’t think I would even need to ask my friend a third time – that he, instead, would initiate a conversation.  Indeed, within a week of sharing this with my wife, my friend called me.  What he declared over the phone was like sweet music in my ears:

“Pat,”  he said, “I have been doing some thinking.  I want to do my giving while I’m living.”  His substantial gift for the construction of our new Activity Center allowed us to build without any debt. And just like that, my world and his changed.

Fast forward to a recent Founders Forum event with Carson Wentz during his rookie year with the Eagles.  This friend of mine was in the audience that night. At the end of the program he looked around at the sea of people filling every seat in the Activity Center and he said to his son who had accompanied him, “And to think, I almost missed the joy of this by not participating in the capital campaign.”

I am grateful that this gentleman had a change of mind – that he committed to do his giving while he was living.  With this new mindset, he has become one of our biggest fans who is always looking for new ways to give.

Last year, for example, he called me up and shared with me that he had just seen the CEO of Home Depot being interviewed on CNBC.  During the interview the man talked about the importance of technology in education.

“What is your technology program like at the school, Pat?”  After a lengthy discussion he asked me to get back to him on what we would do with a $75,000 gift toward technology.  After conferring with my team I met with him and shared our plan – a plan that would require the $75,000, but a plan that would need an infusion of capital in successive years as well.

His response?

“I will give you the $75,000 this year, and I will give you $50,000 every year after this for the rest of my life.”

His generosity is overwhelming.  His passion for the school is inspiring.  He himself, it seems, cannot contain his excitement or his generosity.  While he promised $50,000 per year for our ongoing technology fund, this past year he gave $200,000 which serves as a wonderful illustration for how giving while you’re living not only blesses the recipient but also the giver.


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