He and Jon Dushinsky had spent some time at the International Fundraising Congress in Holland (drinking beer no doubt!) cooking up an idea. They thought it would be cool to recruit a number of fundraisers from different countries to contribute to an anthology-type book. For some reason unknown to me, they decided to ask me to be the Canadian who would make a contribution of thoughts and words.
They decided to ask each contributor to pick a word that’s essential to the essence of philanthropy – and then tell a story that demonstrates the deep connection between the chosen word and the essence of philanthropy.
When I was asked to contribute, I was immensely flattered and very excited. I loved the concept – and was turned on at the challenge.
Then I freaked out for a while…
How would I choose the ‘right’ word? How could I match a story to the word that was coherent to me – and more importantly, to the people who would someday read it? On the one hand, I wanted to contribute something substantive – but on the other hand, I wanted it to be interesting and even entertaining.
After weeks of letting ideas rumble around inside my head, I had my AHA moment.
My word would be ‘meaning’ – and my story would be the life of Ken Shipley.
I’d been doing a lot of research and reading on the psychology of people older than me. I’d just written a book about legacy giving – and had spent more than a year delving inside the heads of people of my parents’ generation. One of the lessons I’d learned in this research was how people have different priorities in the last third of their lives.
Most fundraisers I know are aged somewhere between 30 and 60. During this stage of our lives, we’re very focused on achievement, career, raising kids, paying mortgages and just keeping up with all the demands on our time. We’re busy (extremely so), in response mode and tired a lot of the time.
People of my parents’ generation are (for the most part) in a very different place. They have time – often lots of it. They’ve done most of their life’s work. The kids are raised. The career is done. Many are financially secure.
As people age, one of the most important determinants of health (physical, emotional and spiritual) is having a sense of meaning in life. Healthy older people have, for the most part, answered the question ‘why and I here?’ to their own satisfaction. And, to many older people, their philanthropy is a big component of the meaning they find in life.
Ken Shipley is a former colleague of mine. He’s a good friend. He introduced me to planned giving many years ago. Ken and I serve on a Board together. He’s an incredibly positive and energetic guy who just keeps doing his good works in his own modest way.
Oh yeah. Ken is 80 years old – but you’d never guess it. He’s the youngest old man I’ve ever encountered. Somewhere, somehow, Ken discovered his own fountain of youth.
Ken personifies the connection between philanthropy and the meaning of his life. He has been a lifelong fundraiser, donor, volunteer and leader in the charitable sector. When Ken was in his forties, he and his wife Carol packed up their four teenage kids and headed off to do a three-year CUSO stint in Botswana.
I loved writing Ken’s story more that I can express. I feel like I’ve documented a life that needs to be known and celebrated by fundraisers, volunteers and donors everywhere.
I really hope you’ll read Ken’s story. Not because I wrote it – but because he lived it.