Dear Charlotte, Dear Angela, Dear Donor,

In 2003, when I was the Vice President of Development of Catholic Charities in Saint Louis, I wrote a letter to a deceased woman. It was published in the Catholic Charities Newsletter. I’d like to share a modified version of that letter with you.

Dear Charlotte:

Just prior to Thanksgiving , we learned of your death. We invited you to one of our special events. The post office returned your invitation with a label marked “undeliverable/deceased.”

You passed away April 2003. It just so happens that in October 2003, Catholic Charities was going through a difficult cash-flow shortage. The leadership was having serious discussions about employee lay-offs and services cut backs. Then, the news came, some woman named Charlotte—a donor we never knew—had left four paid on death bank accounts designating Catholic Charities as the beneficiary. The total gifts exceeded $500,000. The cash flow shortage was over.

Charlotte, I want you to know that not a single day has passed when I have not said a prayer for you and for all of the people you have helped through your extraordinary donation.  I vowed from that day forward never to forget you. As an organization, we vowed to hold ourselves accountable by imagining that you resided at the head of our conference table, and from time to time, you would ask, “What did you do with my money?”

My only regret, Charlotte, is that I was never able to thank you when you were still alive. I don’t know much about you. I have no idea why you left Catholic Charities so much money. I can only guess as to what you wanted us to do with your donation.  I can only assume you wanted to help as many people as possible.  Thank you, Charlotte. (Signed) Dan Shasserre.

Now, here I am in a similar development position at Channel 9, the Nine Network of Public Media.  It was October 25, 2010 when I learned of the death of Angela. Our staff remains saddened by the news. None of us were aware that she had passed away, and Angela’s funeral services were private. Still, Channel 9 will receive a generous percentage of Angela’s estate.  Yet, I am somewhat disturbed. I’m disappointed that I didn’t know Angela. I want to ask her why? What motivated you to do this? What do you want us to do with your money? I want to ask you if I can tell others about your gift. Yes, I do want to say “thank you” but, mostly I just want to talk and listen. I want to be reminded, day in and day out, of your story—so we remember how privileged we are, here at Channel 9, that you trusted us enough to donate so generously.

I am tempted to write another letter. I want to know what motivated Angela. Was it a great appreciation for the public television programs she enjoyed, like Nova, Frontline, Masterpiece Theatre? Was it because she appreciated unbiased news from PBS? Was it something from the past, perhaps, a realization of the positive learning experience from our children programs?  Or, was Angela investing in the future of public media because she realized the potential of our collaborative community engagement projects focused to bring improvements in healthcare, education, arts and culture, science and technology, the environment and more? We’ll never know.

If you are a person like Charlotte or Angela…a generous person-one who has already decided to leave some portion of your estate to your favorite non-profit organization, please contact the organization. Speak to the planned giving officer, or anyone, and tell them exactly what you want them to do with your money. Tell them why you are making this gift. They really want to know.

And if you have included Channel 9, the Nine Network of Public Media, in your estate plans, we have many people here who want to listen to your story…please call Jack, Amy, Dick, Nancy, Suzie, Craig, Kate and Kay. Call anyone of us–me too, Dan Shasserre, 314-512-9610.