Planned Giving: Letters from the Past

“Hope your belly quits hurting soon” was the beginning of the letter written to me by a seven-year-old on March 29, 1991. She must have asked an adult what to write next and she was told to talk about her school, toys or family.

It gives insight about who she was. All of her dolls were male, Andy, Jon and Jordan, and “all of them can posse”. I’m not sure if they were forming a posse or that she meant that they could pose into various positions. She was proud that she had learned all the cursive letters. And she felt accomplishment to have read the book, Catwings Return.

Next she said her brother “has a wrestler called Mr. Perfect which is his biggest toy.” Her sketch of Mr. Perfect was a well-drawn representation of a very muscular wrestler. She also mentioned his wrestling buddies Macho and Ultimate.

Several years ago, that seven-year-old girl had her first child. I returned her original letter to her by snail mail in the same old-fashioned way that it was delivered to me.

As I was looking through my scrapbook for her letter, I wondered about the items that I chose to keep. Things I value range from happy times of wedding invitations and birth announcements to more somber obituaries of relatives. I found a nearly-perfect-penmanship letter from my grandmother with her sense of humor demonstrated throughout. She passed away in 2005 so I can only think of her as I hold it in my hand. Reading the 1981 wedding announcement for my friend whose husband died in a construction accident several months before she had her baby would be too painful to send.

What is in your scrapbook—literally and figuratively? There are probably some things that you would rather forget. In mine there is the time I worked for a couple who was living under aliases and running from federal agents and I didn’t even know it. There are the friendships that ended with hurt feelings. And then there are relatives with whom I have lost touch. I miss their heartwarming laughs.

When you are talking to your donors ask them about the memories they cherish and why those are important to them. When you connect them to their past, you open the opportunity to express the importance of the future of their giving, long after they are gone.

The letters, cards and photos of our past weave the fabric of who we are today. I want to cherish each moment that I have and learn to capture the important memories. In ten years when I look back, what will I remember what was important to me? What would I write in a letter to myself? The letters of my past become the letters to the future me.

How can you convey this to your donors and the importance of their gift today and how their planned gift would impact your organization?

I am reminded of the words of my friend Kathy Mattea’s song (listen here):

Time Passes By

Dreams drift away like leaves on the water
They roll down the river and slip out of sight
Too many times we do what we ought to
Put off till tomorrow what we’d really rather do tonight
And later realize

Time passes by people pass on
At the drop of a tear they’re gone
Let’s do what we dare do what we like
And love while we’re here before time passes by

Thoughts are like pennies we keep in our pockets
They’re never worth nothing till we give them away
Love’s like a promise in an unopened letter
Where nights full of pleasure seldom see the light of day
When life gets in the way

Time passes by people pass on…
Time passes by people pass on…