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?

How do you raise almost a half million dollars?

When I was hired as director of development for MennoMedia more than a year ago, one of my primary responsibilities was to raise $400,000 over four years for “new curriculum development.” At the time, I remember thinking that this seemed reasonable since Mennonite Church USA had recently raised more than $5M for a new office in Elkhart, Ind., and in the early 2000s Mennonite Publishing House had raised more than $5M to retire its debt. I recently became aware of a United Methodist church in my home town that raised $250k, with an expectation of raising another $500k, to renovate its stained glass windows. If one congregation can raise three-quarters of a million dollars for its stained glass windows, then surely more than 1,200 Mennonite congregations in the U.S. and Canada could raise $400k to help pass along their Christian faith, with a distinct Anabaptist flavor, to their children.


Many teachers appreciate MennoMedia’s present Gather ‘Round curriculum, which is approaching its final year of an eight-year cycle. One Sunday school teacher in Ontario said of Gather ‘Round, “I’ve taught grades 3‑5 and junior youth. I loved the biblical insight for teachers, the variety of activities offered, and the opening suggestions. The student books also have a great variety of activities, with a mix of historical or current information to geographical and cultural information. I found the kids like reading it and doing the puzzles and other activities.”

Although not an easy task in these challenging economic times, I think MennoMedia will be successful in raising the money needed to produce a new Anabaptist children’s Sunday school curriculum. We are a small agency in a small denomination and lack the financial reserves needed to hire writers, illustrators and project managers needed to produce a quality Sunday school curriculum. Therefore, we need to raise $400k in production costs ahead of sales.


Our strategy has been to reach out to the churches who are the biggest users of the current Sunday school curriculum, Gather ‘Round. To that end I identified the top 50 users of the curriculum in the U.S. and the top 33 in Canada and embarked on a campaign to make a personal visit and campaign appeal to each of these churches. I’ve visited 45 of the top 50 churches in the U.S. and 19 of the top 33 churches in Canada. As a result, we have raised more than $103,000 in gifts and pledges over four years from churches and individuals, including pledges from MennoMedia employees and MennoMedia board members. That figure includes a $10k gift from Mennonite Church Canada and the promise of an offering, which will be designated for new curriculum development, to be taken during an evening worship service at Mennonite Church USA’s biennial assembly in Phoenix this July.

We now have a name, logo and know many details about this new curriculum, which will be available for use in the fall of 2014. It will be Bible story-centered with an emphasis on distinct Anabaptist theological convictions, such as peace, simple living, and intentionally following the way of Jesus. The materials will tell the biblical story and spend significant time with Jesus’ life, ministry, and teachings. It has lofty goals that we know are attainable, which have that “little extra” that makes them distinctive:

• Attend to spiritual practices and spiritual life.
• Build on the faith of young children and call children to intentionally follow the way of Jesus.
• Include stories from Anabaptist history and examples of contemporary persons of faith.
• Emphasize community and relationships.
• Emphasize seeking justice and wholeness for humanity and all of creation.
• Emphasize stewardship, service, mission, and simple living in response to God’s generosity.
• Emphasize peace, reconciliation, and nonviolence.
• Be sensitive to diversity, including socio-economic and racial diversity.

When you really think about these goals and our children, it is not hard to get excited about this new curriculum, which is called Shine: Living in God’s Light. It will serve children age 3 through 8th grade. It will be based on Bible stories and cover most of the canon in three years. There will be music CDs with songs to accompany the sessions, one for young children and another for kindergarten through 8th grade. Shine will not have a senior high youth component but other materials will be available for use with senior high school students.


If you recognize the importance of having an Anabaptist-specific Sunday school curriculum, then I encourage you to support this effort financially. We still need nearly $300k to make the plan for a new Anabaptist specific curriculum a reality. Thank you for your interest in passing on Anabaptist faith to the next generation.

Steve C 2012

Steve Carpenter
Director of Development

Your financial support for new curriculum development is much needed and greatly appreciated. Our online giving software does not currently give us the ability to designate donations, except in general for MennoMedia. So, if you want to give specifically to “new curriculum development” send your checks to:

Mennonite Church Canada, 600 Shaftesbury Blvd., Winnipeg, MB R3P 0M4, Canada (designated for MennoMedia/New Curriculum)


MennoMedia, 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802 (designated for MennoMedia/New Curriculum).

And if you want to keep up to date on all the latest Shine news as the curriculum is developed (and all of the latest happenings at MennoMedia, subscribe to this blog right here on the home page) and share with friends. That’s another way to help!