Written By Danielle Charbonneau Public Relations Intern
Alice Cavanaugh loves her job: Although, she doesn’t think of it as a job.
“It’s more of a ministry,” she says. “I have so many opportunities to minister.”
Alice is Denver Rescue Mission’s Legacy Gift Officer, which means she’s in charge of securing donors who would like to include the Mission as a beneficiary in their will. At most organizations, this type of giving is called “planned giving,” but Alice doesn’t care for that term.
“A ‘planned’ gift is transactional,” she explains. “A Legacy Gift is transformational.”
It might sound like semantics — job vs. ministry, planned vs. legacy — but as one gets to know Alice, it becomes clear that it runs so much deeper than that. It’s a philosophy that seeps into every part of her work. It’s a shift in perspective that’s elevated “planned giving” to something much more personal and purposeful.
“I want to spend time with a donor so that their lives are transformed,” Alice said. “I want to instill in them that this is not about their gift: It’s about them. It’s about having a relationship with our organization, about being in alignment with us and what God is doing through us. It’s about the relationship. It’s about showing them Christ’s love.”
That’s been Alice’s goal from the start: to build relationships. And she has succeeded with flying colors. Her donors have become like family. So much so that Alice keeps pictures of them on a prayer board in her office and in stacks on her shelf. She lights up and comes to life as she shares these photographs and the endearing stories that go with them.
There’s the photo of Edith — a charming, sweet, woman pictured with her tongue sticking out, dyed neon blue by the frosting on the 101st birthday cake Alice brought her to celebrate at her assisted living facility. There’s the picture of grey-bearded Mickey standing behind his prized Harley Davidson out front of IHOP where Alice met him for lunch one afternoon. He took her for a ride on that Harley. Then there’s the picture of Alice in a red Corvette – a driving adventure she took with one of her donors, Kathleen, driving down the canyon from Evergreen, their hair blowing in the wind.
Legacy Donor Edith displays her neon-blue tongue, dyed from the frosting on the 101st birthday cake Alice brought her. Edith, now 103, is still a Denver Rescue Mission Legacy Donor whom Alice still visits.
Alice is always looking for ways to connect with her donors in unique ways and make them feel special. One day Alice went to meet Irene, a donor and widow that’s been giving to the Mission for more than 25 years. Alice watched as Irene grew more and more excited talking about a Wild Animal Sanctuary she’d always wanted to go to.
“She knew so much about it,” said Alice. “I asked her, ‘Irene, would you like to go there?’ Tears just came to her eyes.” So Alice took Irene on a little field trip to Keenesburg to visit that Animal Sanctuary.
It may not have been as wild though, as the time Alice took another donor, Gene, to see Acrocats — a circus-like acrobatics show performed entirely by real-life cats. Gene had always loved cats, but her apartment wouldn’t allow her to have one. When Alice went to visit her, she found Gene glued to the computer trying to purchase tickets to the show. As Alice helped her online, she had an idea.
“Gene,” Alice asked. “How are you going to get there? Wouldn’t you like to have some company?”
A few weeks later they sat side-by-side in the audience at a funky little theater in a funky part of town.
“It was wild… these cats were doing tricks… the trainer even had the cats playing in this band… one was playing drums and another the keyboard — It was wild,” Alice said. “Gene just thought it was the best!”
“That’s one of the things I love the most — to give donors these experiences that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Alice. “It’s just another one of those ways to go the extra mile.”
Alice always seems to go the extra mile. When she was asked to do a presentation on Legacy Giving at a conference in January she could have just made a hum-drum slideshow presentation and passed around a boring black-and-white handout like most presenters. But that’s not how Alice works: She likes to have a little more fun.
She convinced her fellow presenter to do a 50’s themed presentation blasting Elvis’ Jailhouse Rock and doing a theatrical performance: They dressed up as old people, entered in wheel chairs and by the end were boogying to Bob Seggars — a demonstration to show how Legacy Giving doesn’t have to be morbid or about old people and stacks of financial paperwork — it can be fun, modern and meaningful.
“It can be vibrant,” she told her crowd. “The donors will tell you things, so be attentive. Learn something about them. Develop traditions together. Take them their favorite McFlurry. It’s the little things that mean so much.”
Alice is all about keeping her donors involved. She’s grown the Goodheart Society (a club for those who’ve chosen the Mission to receive their Legacy Gifts) to 175 people. These members receive the Goodheart Newsletter, a mailing that keeps them engaged in the Denver Rescue Mission community. Shortly after being hired, Alice started the Angel Card Project: With the help of a volunteer she calls her “Card Angel,” Alice sends out handwritten cards to the families of donors who have recently passed — an act of empathy that has been profoundly meaningful to the recipients. Right now Alice is working on revamping the Legacy Giving webpage to include some of the photos and stories of the donors she loves so much.
“I take my ideas and I run with ’em,” Alice said. “And I have an incredible boss that lets me do that. He’s given me the creative freedom to tailor the job to who I am. That’s what loving your job is all about — seizing it as an opportunity to utilize the gifts God has given you.”
Alice loves her job. Alice loves her ministry.
Legacy donor Mickey took Alice out for an afternoon spin on his prized Harley Davidson.