The First Time I Gave

Guest Post By Penelope Burk

Elementary school and I just didn’t get along. I attended a strict parochial school, with dour teachers who were not content to simply educate me; they were determined to adjust my attitude as well. I was a free spirit who stared out the window a lot, longing for summer vacation and the release that it granted both my physical self and my unbridled imagination.

One day, we were all called into the gymnasium for a special message from the principal. He spoke with much authority about a small community somewhere in Africa which needed our school’s help. He described the terrible conditions in which children “over there” lived and how he wanted us to raise money over the next two months to help them have a better life.

I was excited, that is until he said that we would be raising money to build a school. “What? How horrible,” I thought, and vowed then and there that I would not be a party to destroying the freedom and happiness of any other child. As we filed out of the gym, we were each handed a small box which the principal instructed us to keep on our desks and contribute to as often as possible. The boxes would be collected two months hence.

While my classmates eagerly went about doing chores and other activities to raise money, dutifully depositing their nickels and dimes in their boxes every day, I pretended to be taking part without contributing one red cent.

MoneyImage courtesy of fantasista at

One day the principal announced over the loud speaker that it was time to collect up the money we had raised. As my classmates brought their boxes up to the front, each one jangled with change as it landed on the teacher’s desk with a thud. When it was my turn, I carefully cradled my box in both my hands, implying that it was so full that I feared the bottom would collapse. My teacher gave me a very big smile as I tried to hide it amongst [sic] the other boxes. She smiled again and patted my hand because not only had I apparently raised more money than anyone else, I was making my contribution with a true sense of humility. I held my breath, hoping that the boxes would not be opened in the classroom. Luck was on my side; my subterfuge was never exposed.

A couple of months later, the United Way announced its annual campaign. A vibrant young woman from our local animal shelter (which was a United Way agency), came to our school to talk about how she and her team rescued and rehabilitated abandoned and abused cats and dogs. I was spellbound.

I ran straight home after school and emptied my piggy bank. I tore the cushions off every sofa and chair, plunging my little arms as far as they could descend into the upholstery, bringing a veritable treasure trove of coins to the surface. I did chores; I looked for coins on the street; I sold plums and peaches door-to-door. (I got in trouble for that later for taking them from the fridge without asking.) I was undeterred, determined that no little animal that needed help would be denied what this wonderful shelter had to offer.

Two weeks and a very heavy bag of coins later, I brought the money to school to give to the United Way. In the bag was a note that said, “This money is for the lady at the animal shelter who helps little animals be happy and free.”

That was the first time I gave and I will never forget it.


This is one of twelve thousand stories from donors about what inspired them to start giving. I found it in The 2014 Burk Donor Survey, Penelope Burk, Where philanthropy is headed in 2014, (Hamilton, ON: Cygnus Applied Research, 2014), p 3. Used with permission.

Money Image above courtesy of fantasista at

Penolope Burk, author, trainer, presenter and President of Cygnus Applied Research, Inc.

Penelope Burk, author, trainer, presenter and President of Cygnus Applied Research, Inc.


If you would like to read more of Penelope Burk’s reflections click here to reach her blog.

Do you have a story to tell about a first or significant giving experience? If so, tell us about it in the comment section below.

If you are a resident of the U.S. and wish to donate to MennoMedia, Click here to donate with PayPal

If you are Canadian and wish to donate to MennoMedia, please click here. Your donation will be processed and receipted through Mennonite Church Canada.

Thank you for your support.

Steve Carpenter Director of Development and Church Relations

Steve Carpenter
Director of Development and Church Relations

My Littlest Donors — by Steve Carpenter

I have been MennoMedia’s Director of Development and Church Relations for nearly three years. When I first came on staff I overlapped with my predecessor for one week. During that time, we did a development trip together to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, visiting donors and Mennonite churches.

One of the things Randy Miller, the prior development director said to me was, “It’s a good day when you have the opportunity to meet with a donor who is younger than you.” Randy and I were both in our late 50s when he made that remark. He was right.

Very few of the donors I’ve met in the past three years have been younger than I am. Two of MennoMedia’s faithful older donors are Russell and Gladys Alderfer, who are 90 and 88 years of age respectively. Although they are my in-laws, they have been supporting MennoMedia for many decades, long before I came on staff.

Russell and Gladys Alderfer

Russell and Gladys Alderfer

I enlisted MennoMedia’s four youngest donors last month when I visited Brent and Deirdre Alderfer in Stockton, New Jersey. Brent is my brother-in-law and is supportive of my work. However, he wouldn’t give to MennoMedia if he wasn’t convinced his donation would yield a beneficial return. He is after all, a keen businessman and CEO of Community Energy, a sustainable energy company. He, and his wife Deirdre, are also passing along business acumen and a sense of generosity to their children.

Several years ago Brent and Deirdre made a gift to MennoMedia to support development of the new Anabaptist Sunday school curriculum, Shine. I was revisiting him and his family to seek additional support for that curriculum project. Brent and Deirdre again came through with a gift but this time they invited their young children, Aiden, Andrew, Aleesia and Adeline, to give too. The kids set aside money from their allowance for savings and to give to God’s work. They keep this money in envelopes marked “savings,” “helping,” and “world.”

Aiden, Andrew, Adeline (front) & Aleesia Alderfer

Aiden, Andrew, Adeline (front) & Aleesia Alderfer

In addition to the gift their parents gave, the children gave an additional $9 for new curriculum development. With these gifts and others we have raised nearly $367,000 of the $400,000 needed to complete development of Shine, the new Anabaptist Sunday school curriculum.

As is my custom, I like to give each donor whom I visit a gift. I generally allow them to choose one of our books. In this case I gave the Alderfer family a copy of the Shine On children’s Bible storybook, which is integral to the Shine curriculum but is also a very nice standalone piece which can be used by parents and grandparents in the home. Aleesia took to it immediately!

Aleesia Alderfer with Shine On Children's Bible Storybook

Aleesia Alderfer with Shine On Children’s Bible Storybook

The Bible tells us that “God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7 b). These four little ones radiate the joy of giving. May we learn from their example, and follow their lead in giving generously and joyfully to God’s work, as the Spirit prompts.

If you would like to give to MennoMedia click here. Once at that site you will find two buttons, one for U.S. citizens and another for Canadians. You can make a tax deductible donation using PayPal, a credit card, or by check. Thank you for your support.

Brent and Deirdre have modeled teaching stewardship to their children. MC USA’s Stewardship agency Everence  has several free downloadable resources available to use in teaching generosity to children and youth on their website. Click here to view or download three stewardship resources: Money Matters for Youth, which is designed for use in High School aged Sunday school classes, Three Key Questions and Money, written for Youth Groups, and  a three-part lesson plan for young children called Stewardship for Kids.


Blessings in your work, worship and witness.

Steve Carpenter, Director of Development and Church Relations

Steve Carpenter, Director of Development and Church Relations


How do you teach generosity to your children?

Are there resources you would recommend for teaching children about giving to God’s work?

The Work of Development – Give a Blessing, Receive a Blessing: Lotus and Judy Hershberger

I serve as MennoMedia’s director of development and church relations. My job is to encourage individual and congregational giving to support MennoMedia’s ministry. I am usually on the road every third week visiting pastors and donors, and telling them about what is happening at MennoMedia.

During my visits I spend a fair amount of time listening and getting to know our donors; their families, their faith, and sometimes a bit about their finances. I also tell them about new initiatives at MennoMedia. Most recently I have shared about Shine, the new Anabaptist children’s Sunday school curriculum. I also tell them about new books we are publishing including the popular memoir Bonnet Strings and Ervin Stutzman’s historical novel Jacob’s Choice.

BonnetStrings                              JacobsChoice

I think of my work in relation to a quote by Mennonite pastor and development consultant Lori Guenther Reesor of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada who calls fundraising “the joyful and holy task of telling people about the garden and inviting them to water it.” I see my work that way. During each visit my goal is to be a blessing to those I meet and in turn to be open to receiving a blessing on behalf of our ministry. I usually close each meeting with prayer, both for the donor or congregation, and for the work of MennoMedia. I also offer each client their choice of one of MennoMedia’s books or CDs, which I carry with me in the trunk of my rental car.

Each visit lasts about an hour during which donors are usually extremely gracious, often offering a cup of tea with a cookie or a piece of fruit which is sometimes plucked from their orchard. Some invite me to stay with them the next time I am in the area and I have taken several up on that offer.

Most recently, during a trip to Illinois in May, I stayed for two nights with Lotus and Judy Hershberger in their lovely duplex home in the residential community surrounding the Mennonite Church of Normal. When I arrived on a Tuesday night, I learned Stanley Green, Executive Director of Mennonite Mission Network, had been there on Saturday, a few nights earlier, having arrived in preparation for speaking at their congregation on Sunday morning.

Lotus and Judy are wonderful people from whom I have learned a lot about living life to the fullest. Lotus taught mathematics at Illinois State University for 31 years before retirement, while Judy taught Junior High School. Both are involved at Menno Haven Camp and Retreat Center where Lotus served on the Board of Directors for many years and, more recently, as an Interim Executive Director for some months.

Lotus is in great shape physically, due in part to his practice of getting at least 1,000 minutes of exercise each month, a practice I have learned and embraced from him. During his 70th year to celebrate his birthday, Lotus hiked 25 miles over two days from the north rim of the Grand Canyon to its south rim. I hope to be able to do the same when I’m 70!

grandcanyonJudy has a generous spirit and a loving embrace. Over the years they hosted and/or housed many international students attending Illinois State University, helping them adjust to a very foreign and unfamiliar environment. During my stay Judy baked a rhubarb pie and served it warm with ice cream.

Both are active at the Mennonite Church of Normal (MCN) where Lotus serves as Congregational Chair. Together with several two other couples they lead a group from church and the Mennonite Residential Community called EATs – Enrichment Activity Trips. Between a dozen and 30 people join them in this monthly outing to a nearby park, museum, business or event which always involves eating together. The week I was with them they were taking a walking tour of downtown. After organizing 118 of these EATs events they feel like it might be winding down.

Before I left I offered them a choice of books from my stash. They picked Saving the Seasons cookbook and Bluffton professor Gerald Mast’s Go to Church and Change the World. We gathered for prayer in their kitchen and Lotus prayed. In their warm embrace, I sensed their love and support for me and for MennoMedia. Lotus asked when MennoMedia’s next fundraising letter would arrive and I told him it would be coming soon. He promised to respond with a gift. As with many visits to various donors, I felt I had given a blessing and received a blessing.

Saving the Seasons                               Seminar


I’d love to hear your comments or responses to any of the following questions:

How do you care for yourself by way of exercise?

Do you have a group with whom you meet regularly for spiritual, emotional, or educational enrichment?

How do you perceive development officers? Do you welcome them and extend hospitality or would you just as soon not see them at your front door?

How is God calling you to be a blessing to others today?

Steve Carpenter, Director of Development and Church Relations

Steve Carpenter, Director of Development and Church Relations