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Nonprofits in the Know
Why I Volunteer
-The Rev. Nathan Speck-Ewer

Bradenton, FL

I give my time and energy to the community because in doing so I help others and discover a better, truer version of myself. I serve in lots of different roles, but each of them brings me joy to see my time and energy going to improving someone else's life. For me, that's a sacred moment.

Photo Credit:
Christna Wetjen Brinson

We Don't Choose Our Moments. They Just Happen.

Day One, Tuesday, January 12, 2010:
A catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti. I worked at a local American Red Cross chapter in Florida. As information came in, we learned that thousands of men, women, and children were trapped in rubble of fallen buildings and thousands more had lost their lives on this tiny island to our south. There was no power or water, landline phone service was completely knocked out, cell service was overloaded into paralysis, and airport landing strips were impassible. Families in the United States and around the world could not get word from relatives in Haiti, had no idea if their homes were destroyed, or if they were alive.

Day Two:
At Red Crosses in Florida, we were receiving almost hourly briefings on the systems being put in place to get aid to the island. Calls to or from cell phones in Haiti still could not get through, but some texts were starting to transmit; people around the world were slowly receiving information on their loved ones.

Our local office set up a call center staffed with volunteers to receive the mass of calls coming from people who wanted to help. We set up a walk-in donation station of white folding tables and chairs in our lobby. We were hundreds of miles from the earthquake, but people came to us knowing that the big red symbol over our door meant that we would be able to help get aid to Haiti.

But I am not writing this to tell you about us- not me, not Red Cross, not even our volunteers, who were absolutely amazing in the face of such devastation and sadness.

I am writing to tell you about a tiny little woman of about eighty who walked through our doors on Day Two. I am forty three years old at the time of this article, and this tiny little woman is one of the people who has had the most profound effect on my life. I didn’t even talk to her directly. I have always mentally called her Grandma, because I don’t know her name.

Grandma was small, dressed mostly in white, and wore a white cloth head wrap covering her hair. Her skin was creased with age and the color of chestnuts. Those things I remember clearly. She had a young woman with her who could have been a niece, a driver, or caregiver, I don’t know.

Grandma sat down at that plastic table across from a volunteer. She said quietly, “I just learned that my family is Haiti is gone.” I am sure that here the volunteer said something appropriate, but for the life of me I don’t know what it was. Then Grandma pulled out her wallet and handed the volunteer all of the cash in it. She said, “My family has died. I want to give you this money so that you can help other families live.”

It was that simple.

Someone asked me the other day what I thought, as a fundraiser, was the most important gift I’d ever received for an organization. Well, that’s an easy one. That gift from Grandma was the most important gift someone could give. Her life had just been devastated by the mass death of her family, yet she was still so caring a human that her thoughts were on how she could help others from having to feel such sadness.

I don’t even know how much it was. It could have been $8 or $200. It wasn’t even given to me- it was given through a volunteer. It doesn’t matter. That gift from that woman on that day means as much to me, and in some ways maybe more, than any $100,000 gift I’ve been a part of receiving for an organization.

All gifts are important investments in the mission and the good work done through nonprofits. And, as fundraisers and nonprofit professionals, we are grateful for every single gift.

For me, the eighty year-old woman from Haiti whose name I never knew is motivation not only to want to help raise funds for important organizational missions, but to try every day to be as selfless a person as “Grandma”.

- Tracy Vanderneck, MSM, CFRE
Phil-Com, LLC

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