David Yount: "The art of acceptance" could serve as the motto of every person who has ever approached strangers on behalf of worthy causes and needy people.
On a bookshelf next to my desk rests a simple tin cup. It's not a souvenir, exactly, but a poignant reminder of how I toiled during half of my working life -- as a fundraiser.
Pasted to the cup is a faded copy of a quotation from the celebrated editor Russell Lynes, who was born 100 years ago.
"The art of acceptance," Lynes wrote, "is the art of making someone who has just done you a small favor wish that he might have done you a greater one."
That definition could serve as the motto of every person who has ever approached strangers on behalf of worthy causes and needy people. Fortunately, Americans are unusually generous people. Few of us were born with silver spoons in our mouths, but all of us have suffered loss and heartbreak at some time in our lives. So we're inclined to share our bounty with perfect strangers.
You might suspect that in difficult times, like the current recession, charitable giving would be the first thing people eliminate from their budgets. If so, you'd be wrong. We sustain our generosity with others even when we're hard-pressed to pay our own bills. Proportionally, lower-income Americans surpass the rich in giving to charity.
My wife and I spent much of our working lives on the staffs of nonprofit organizations. Neither of us was anxious to ask people for money, but we believed in our causes and witnessed how even modest donations transform lives and make the world a better place.
Although never affluent ourselves, over the years we attracted literally millions of dollars to the causes for which we worked.
Fundraisers perforce maintain a low profile. After all, the donations aren't theirs. They are merely conduits for generosity.
Sometimes causes are so dramatic that donations bypass fundraisers altogether. When earthquakes devastated Haiti, leaving millions hungry, sick and homeless, individual Americans spontaneously flooded relief organizations with donations to demonstrate solidarity with the Haitian people.
Nowhere in the gospels is there an explanation of how Jesus and his disciples financed his own mission, day in, day out, for three years. It's safe to suspect that they didn't satisfy their daily need for food by relying on miraculous multiplications of loaves and fishes. Jesus admitted to sometimes sleeping in the open, but they needed shelter from the heat, cold and rain.
Clearly, the little band accepted food and hospitality when it was offered, but they must have sought and received donations as well. What we do know is that the apostle Judas was charged with keeping the common purse filled. We also know that he kept his own purse filled, notably with 30 pieces of silver for betraying Jesus.
Judas' example sounds a cautionary note for all fundraisers. He dramatically failed to practice Lynes' art of acceptance.
David Yount's latest book is "Making a Success of Marriage: Planning for Happily Ever After" (Rowman & Littlefield). He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and firstname.lastname@example.org.