This article was originally posted at Smorgasblurb.
I still don’t know why I answered my phone. I didn’t recognize the number, but took the risk and put my clunky Blackberry to my ear. Matthew introduced himself. He had recently sold his law firm and was smitten with the mission of HOPE International. I almost declined the call, but I’m sure glad I didn’t.
That call came just over five years ago. At the time, I was new to my role as a fundraiser with HOPE. I’m sure Matthew sensed my nervousness, but he was gracious. We small-talked for a bit and then he asked me about my work. I told him of a crazy trip my new wife, Alli, and I were taking across the country. We dubbed the trip 10ten10 because we had planned ten events in ten states to commemorate HOPE’s tenth anniversary.
[As an aside, yes, the now vintage (and embarrassing) trip blog still exists. Thanks, Mom, (commenter name “P.M.” for “Proud Mother”) for the blog comments!]
Matthew liked the concept. And he decided to throw his weight behind it. He offered to match dollar-for-dollar every donation from the trip, up to $5,000. I pumped my fist in my office, but played it cool on the phone, pretending I received that sort of pledge often. I hadn’t (ever).
[pullquote] I’m swelling with gratefulness for Matthew and the thousands who have joined him in propelling the mission of HOPE.[/pullquote]
Alli and I started our 10ten10 trip in Pennsylvania and wound our way west to Seattle, then south to San Diego, and finally back east to Colorado. We held events all along the trail. As Oregon Trail aficionados, we were saddened to not ford any rivers or hunt any bison. But, at one Wyoming ranch, we did hunt prairie dogs (this is very normal, legal and humane in Wyoming—just trust me on this one). And, our Ohioan host was one of the nation’s top Cutco salesmen. And we exceeded our fundraising goals. All told, 77 new donors gave over $25,000 to fund HOPE’s work around the world during the trip.
The trip launched me into a career I’ve come to love. I like the trips, the days where my car becomes my remote office, and even the occasional crazy person who accuses HOPE of various sorts of heresy. And I really like writing. I started writing with these very poorly written early blog posts. Since then, I’ve written one short blog post for 60 straight months. “Practice makes better” and next month, my first book, “Mission Drift,” officially launches.
[As a second aside: I can’t think of anything that “screams Christmas gift” more than an IOU preordered copy of the book! Am I right?]
But most of all, I love our donors. Young and old, pastors and entrepreneurs, Anglicans and Baptists, oilmen and activists. Bankers and lawyers, like Matthew. They hail from different vocations, but they share affection for Good Samaritanism and for the Good News. And they make my work anything but the daily grind.
In mid-2006, HOPE extended me a job offer. I still am not sure why, as my previous work was not exactly related. I had worked as a construction laborer, a butcher’s assistant, and an amusement park ride operator (well, technically a senior ride operator, responsible for commandeering the fearsome Sky Princess). But they did. And I joined the grassroots HOPE team as Chief Gopher. That wasn’t my actual title, but for a tiny nonprofit with less than 10 headquarters staff, that’s basically what I became.
Then my boss shipped me off to Romania. Because who doesn’t love traveling, basically, to the Siberian Tundra in the dead of winter? I’m still not sure if it was a promotion or a demotion, but I accepted the challenge with long underwear and parka in tow. After completing a three-month feasibility study, I returned back to the States. HOPE had hired a Chief Gopher in my absence so I found a new role. After a brief stint in our human resources department, I moved over to the fundraising team.
When I made that move, our donors were already surging behind HOPE’s mission. They were absolutely the wind beneath our wings. In the 2005 fiscal year, we barely eclipsed $3M in revenue. By 2008, that number crested $6M. This year, Lord willing, we’ll cross $11M for the first time. The HOPE donor ranks swelled all the while. From under 1,000 supporters in 2006 to over 4,000 this year. The growth in other areas has been even more dramatic. From under 10 US staff in 2006 to over 70 now. And most importantly, from serving just over 100,000 clients in 2006 to nearly 600,000 today.
As HOPE’s support base has grown, our team of regional representatives has grown along with it—now stretching from Southern California to New England. I count it one of my greatest professional joys to serve alongside this talented group of HOPE ambassadors. In our cities, we enjoy the privilege of representing HOPE to our partner churches and donors, like Matthew.
When I called Matthew after our 10ten10 trip to share the exciting news about meeting the $5,000 match, he made our second phone call even more memorable than the first. He said he wanted to match the whole thing. All $25,000. As 2013 comes to a close, I’m swelling with gratefulness for Matthew and the thousands who have joined him in propelling the mission of HOPE around the world. When the all-powerful Creator entered the world in a manger, it was a breathtaking and unexpected act of generosity. And this Christmas, amidst all the asking and fundraising, I want HOPE donors reading this post to know how abundantly grateful we are for you. Thank you for reflecting the surprising generosity of Jesus.