Two $4 million surprise gifts

Harvest happens, not always where we expectThe Chronicle of Philanthropy reported of a couple of $4 million gifts give to surprised nonprofits.

According to the story, a Pasadena couple, Robert and Adrienne Westerbeck, gave $4 million to each of their alma maters. As is typical in stories like this (and Richard Walters [$4 mill] and Jean Preston [$8 mill] and Helene Alley [$7.3 mill]), people had no idea the couple had this sort of wealth.

I take two lessons from this kind of story:

  • Never underestimate anyone

    We have to strategically choose who we invest our time with because we have to be good stewards of our nonprofit's limited resources. But these stories remind us of what I call "forced integrity": we are forced to have integrity in dealing with everyone. The $100 may end up giving $7.3 million, like Helen Alley. Or they might not.

    But they are human and therefore worthy of respect.

  • Keep sowing

    Stories like these also remind me of Galatians 6:7: Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow.

    I have no idea what the faith commitments of any of these donors or recipients are. But I do know that Ray Kroc was on to something when he said, "Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get."

    So keep sowing. Keep doing the right things. The harvest may come from an entirely different field. But a harvest will come. And in the words of Galatians 6:9: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

I believe we'll hear more of these stories in the coming years. Are you positioned to receive a gift like this?

Do you have a "don't grow weary" story? Share it in the comments here!

About Marc A. Pitman

Marc A. Pitman is the CEO of The Concord Leadership Group, the author of Ask Without Fear! and director of The Nonprofit Academy. A coach to leaders around the world, Marc's expertise and enthusiasm engages audiences and has caught the attention of media organizations as diverse as Al Jazeera and Fox News. Marc’s experience also includes pastoring a Vineyard church, managing a gubernatorial campaign, and teaching internet marketing and fundraising at colleges and universities. He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing 80’s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family! You can connect with him on Google+, on Twitter @marcapitman, and like "Ask Without Fear!" on Facebook.
To get his free ebook on 21 ways to get board members engaged with fundraising, go to


  1. Eric Frans says:

    Isn't it just right that we treat everyone as if they might leave a $4M gift? After we wade through database segmentation and time focus exercises and ROI really just comes down to treating people well - all the people, all the time. Then you'll be positioned to receive...

  2. Very true, Eric! But it can be SO hard to remember!

  3. I love the Ray Kroc quote. A similar one I've used is that the harder you work, the 'luckier' you get.

  4. Thanks Kirsten! That was the one I was looking for. But I couldn't find who said it (it's attributed to more than one person). So I went with Ray. 🙂

What would you add?