First Things & Savvy Fundraisers

Updated: Apr 28

Jewish storytellers tell about the first murder in history. It is a cunning story that illustrates something the Jewish culture values supremely: first things.

First things matter to Jewish people and savvy fundraisers.

The story of brothers, Cain and Abel is a story of jealousy, anger, and murder. But it is also a story that highlights this Jewish value of "first things."

The story contrasts the gifts the two brothers made to God. Abel, a shepherd, brought the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. It was the best he had to offer.

On the other hand, Cain, a farmer, didn't bring the first fruits of his farming. He merely brought some of his crops, not the best he had to offer.

Jewish ears would quickly hear and know the difference in the quality of the two gifts. One involved first things, and one did not.

In the days of those stories, when the Jewish God was pleased with someone's gift, He sent fire down from heaven and took it! (see :38). When He was displeased, the giver would sit and wait.

Abel brings his first things offering.

Fire falls from the sky with the intensity of a sonic boom! EVERYONE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD knows that something powerful has happened. Abel has brought an offering to God, and it has been accepted! Big whoop!!

Not to be outdone, Cain steps forward and offers his second-rate offering. He quickly backs away to protect himself from the fireball from the sky. The neighborhood shields its collective eyes and covers its ears. Here comes the fire and the boom!!!

And they wait...

And they wait...

No fire. No sonic boom.

For Cain, it had to be embarrassing. Even humiliating. Maybe it was during the long wait that Cain got angrier and angrier?

The Jewish God LOVED Abel's first things.

He didn't notice Cain's things.

You see, Cain kept the first and expensive watermelons at the beginning of the season for himself. He gave the cheap watermelons at the end of the season to God (read here). This was not something that God could overlook. It mattered. How the Jewish people handled their first things mattered a lot (See Mishlei 3:9)

If you know the story, then you know how it ends; in a fit of jealous anger, Cain kills Abel.

This story points to the power of first things in our lives.

Some Insights for Fundraisers:

# 1: How we respond to first things matters.

An organization that honors and celebrates first things cultivates a unique culture. This culture of celebration and thanksgiving attracts resources. This culture of celebration and thanksgiving stirs up a 'let's do it' disposition throughout the entire organization. A nonprofit that doesn't celebrate first things demonstrates a tendency toward mediocrity that shuts down major investment.

First things hold a unique power and place in our lives and culture.

  • First birthday

  • First car

  • First kiss

  • First house

  • First child

  • First steps

  • First dollar in business

  • First man on the moon

  • First African-American president

  • First black graduate at West Point

#2: Good things follow when first things are celebrated and offered up in thanksgiving.

Successful people have a treasure trove of first things they honor. I have seen their child's first pair of shoes bronzed; their first steps memorialized in video; their first outfits shadowboxed. I have seen their first dollar earned framed for all to see. I am not sure what it is, but something about making a big deal out of first things sets the universe toward favor in your life.

A donor's first gift

Knowing the power of first things, it doesn't surprise me that a study from McConkey International UK found that first-time donors who get a personal thank you within 48 hours are four times more likely to give a second gift.

This matters a lot when we realize that out of the ten new donors who gave to your nonprofit this year, only two will ever give again (read here). BUT, celebrate their first gift, and the chances that they will give again go up 400%!

You have to notice, though, there is a brief window of opportunity for that celebration to take place:


First-time donors must receive a personal thank-you in forty-eight hours.

Penelope Burk, the author of Donor-Centered Fundraising and Donor-Centered Leadership, says that a thank-you call from a board member to a new donor within 24 hours of their gift will increase the size of their next gift by 39%.

Are you getting this? We can increase the odds of getting a second gift from a first-time donor by 400%. THEN when the second gift does come in, IT WILL LIKELY BE 39% LARGER.


A donor’s first year

Have a date on the calendar where everyone is invited to a celebration party for first year donors. Use fire. Make a sonic boom. Celebrate them like crazy! You will see, it affects how much money you will get from them the following years!

Volunteers' first time serving

When someone shows up to give you their time, it is special. But, when they show up to serve for the first time, you would do well to celebrate it! Brainstorm all the ways that you can make a big deal out of and celebrate your volunteers on their first serving day (Go ahead, throw down some fire from heaven on them!).

Potential donors' first engagement with your mission

When you do any event, make sure it is missionized. What do I mean by missionize? Consider...

Events have become the fuel of the fundraising engine for so many nonprofits: bake-sales, golf tournaments, car washes, and black-tie galas.

Your event is not missionized when the event's purpose is just to raise money. It is missionized when its highest purpose is to bring people into the knowledge of the fantastic work of your organization and fundraising plays second fiddle.

Missionize your bake sale. Make sure that people can learn about your mission and buy baked goods!

Missionize your golf tournament. Introducing people to your mission is THE priority, and golfing is a second priority.

Missionize ALL your fundraising events where new people will be exposed to your mission for the first time. AND raise some money in the process!

First things matter to Jewish people and savvy fundraisers.

I bet you can think of even more first things that matter to fundraisers. Let me know about them. I want to write about them too!


I believe nonprofits are led by 'angels' who often know little about fundraising. Because of that, I have created a cheat sheet with copies and examples of some great thank-you's.

You can download it for free, with no strings attached. Refuse to remain naïve about the power of great thank-you's. Get my gift to you, "Getting That Elusive Second Gift By Writing Better Thank You's!," and start down the path to getting your organization the money it needs!

Download "Getting That Elusive Second Gift By Writing Better Thank You's!" now.



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