This past Friday morning, very early, the man I’ve considered to be my “father-in-law” for the past nine years, Donald G. Panger, passed away. He was 81 had been living with Alzheimer’s for many years.
When I first met him I noticed he had a terrific laugh and loved a good story. Sometimes, of course he’d tell the same one over and over again, but the stories were fun to listen to.
It was a lovely gift that my partner, Mark and I, got to spend much of the final day of Don’s life with him. He was no longer aware of anything around him; his memory had gone over time and consciousness had also gone over the past few weeks.
To pass the hours of the “vigil” we touched him often and talked to Don, unsure whether or not he could hear what we were saying, sang him songs, read aloud, and generally filled the space with the sounds of our love.
Once he passed and the obituary was written I reflected on the full life this man had: Mayor of Cloquet, Minnesota for six years, on the City Council for fourteen, serving on boards and a part of social clubs and various non-profits. He also built all the homes his family lived in; board by board.
Though not a family of extensive means and therefore there isn’t a large estate, I was surprised there really was not any connection in the later years to the groups that he’d given his precious time to when he was younger and in his prime.
It dawned on me that there are quite possibly thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Don’s in the world who are community-minded but have lost touch with the organizations that were at one time so important.
What does this have to do with fundraising? I invite development directors and boards to give thought to how well you know some of the people who have been giving the longest? Have you given them the opportunity to make a bequest or planned gift of some sort? Is there a way the family of the elder should be included in conversations with your supporter to engage them in making important legacy giving decisions?
If at your organization fundraising is challenging and asking people for money something no one wants to do, talking about dying and planned giving likely never makes the to do list. That’s a mistake in my opinion.
At 51, I’ve already made my end of life giving decisions, but not because anyone invited me to support their organization, because I know I want to leave a legacy of more than an estate to be wrangled over after I’m gone.
So, Don’s passing has prompted this week’s Withism:
What could you do to encourage discussions about planned giving in a welcome environment that actually provides helpful information to your donors? Think about it. And then do something that allows your longest-time supporters to be allowed to leave a legacy that is meaningful.
I thank Don Panger for continuing to teach me even in his passing. He’ll be missed.