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Nonprofits, Murder & First Things

A fireball falling from the sky.
When a gift was accepted, fire from the sky consumed it.

Jewish storytellers tell a story about the first murder in history. It is a cunning tale that illustrates something that nonprofit leaders should understand…

The value of marking and celebrating first things.

The story of brothers Cain and Abel is about jealousy, anger, and murder. It contrasts the gifts the two brothers made to their God.

Abel brings the first and best portions of his firstborn lambs from his flock. It was the best he had to offer. In contrast, his farmer brother, Cain, kept the first fruits of his harvest for himself and offered leftovers to his God.

It was the custom that when their gifts were received by their God, fire would fall from the sky and consume it. If the gift wasn’t pleasing, the giver would wait, and wait… Imagine with me, when fire falls from the sky, there is always a crowd!

The crowd gathers and Abel offers his gift and, WHOOSH! With the intensity of a sonic boom, fire falls from above and consumes the gift. Abel is pleased. Maybe there is applause from the crowd.

Not to be undone, Cain steps forward and offers his second things 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 boom!

And they wait.

And they wait.

No fire. No sonic boom.

Cain is publicly humiliated. As he waits, you know the story, he gets angry. So angry that he kills his brother.

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

When we fail to recognize and celebrate “firsts,” we miss powerful opportunities to strengthen our relationships, build momentum, and create a positive, thriving culture.

  • In families, celebrating firsts – from a baby’s first steps to a teenager’s first job – helps to create a strong sense of unity, pride, and mutual support. By acknowledging these milestones, we show our loved ones that we are paying attention, and that we are invested in their growth and success. This builds trust, strengthens bonds, and fosters a family culture of encouragement and celebration.

  • In the business world, recognizing firsts is equally crucial. When a team member lands their first client, closes their first deal, or completes their first project, it’s a chance to boost morale, build confidence, and reinforce the behaviors and values that drive success. By celebrating these achievements, leaders demonstrate that they value their employees’ contributions and are committed to their professional development. This, in turn, fuels engagement, loyalty, and a positive company culture.

  • On a societal level, marking firsts – from groundbreaking inventions to historic civil rights victories – helps to shape our collective narrative and propel us forward. These milestones remind us of our capacity for innovation, progress, and overcoming challenges. They inspire us to dream bigger, to push beyond our perceived limits, and to work towards a better future. When we neglect to celebrate these firsts, we risk losing sight of our shared accomplishments and the power of our collective potential.

Some insights for nonprofit leaders & fundraisers

1. How we mark and 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. It stirs up a “let’s do it” disposition throughout the entire organization.

A nonprofit that doesn’t mark and celebrate first things demonstrates a tendency toward mediocrity that shuts down major investment.

2. Good things follow when first things are marked and celebrated in thanksgiving.

Successful people and organizations have a treasure trove of first things they honor. I have seen parents bronze their child’s first pair of shoes; their baby’s first outfit shadowboxed; businesses have their first dollar earned framed for all to see.

There is something about marking and celebrating first things that set the universe toward favor in your life.

We should be intentional about first things

So, how can we make sure we’re giving firsts the attention they deserve? It starts with being intentional – taking the time to notice, name, and honor these milestones, no matter how small they may seem. It means creating a culture of recognition and appreciation, where everyone feels seen, valued, and celebrated for their unique contributions.

Whether it’s a heartfelt “congratulations,” a special ceremony, or a public shout-out, the key is to make people feel like their firsts matter – because they do. They matter for the individual, for the family, for the team, and for society as a whole.

What are some first things that nonprofits can mark and celebrate?

  • A donor’s first gift

Knowing the power of marking and celebrating first things, it doesn’t surprise me that studies have found that first time donors who get a heartfelt and personal thank you within 48 hours are four times more likely to give a second gift.

This is monumental considering that 65% of first-time donors NEVER give a second gift.

Penelope Burk says that a thank you call from a board member to a new donor within 24 hours increases the size of their next gift by 39%!

  • A donor’s first giving anniversary

When a donor gives for the first time, immediately invite them to circle the date on their calendar for the annual celebration get-together for everyone who has joined your giving community this year.

  • A volunteer’s first time serving

Plan ahead of time how you will celebrate a donor’s first time volunteering with you. Special note? Phone call? Public recognition?

  • A donor's first recurring gift

Have a special way to recognize donors when they choose to join your monthly giving program.

  • A donor's first legacy gift commitment

When a donor informs you of their intention to include your organization in their estate plans, celebrate this incredible commitment to your long-term success.

  • A donor's first peer-to-peer fundraiser

Acknowledge donors who take the initiative to fundraise on your behalf through peer-to-peer campaigns or personal fundraising pages. Their willingness to leverage their networks for your cause is worth celebrating.

When we celebrate firsts, we’re not just marking a moment in time – we’re investing in a brighter, more positive future. We’re building resilience, fostering innovation, and strengthening the bonds that hold us together.

What firsts can you celebrate today? How can you make recognition and appreciation a core part of your leadership style and your daily interactions? Remember, every “first” is an opportunity to make a positive impact – so let’s seize those opportunities and watch the magic unfold.


To help you get that elusive second gift, I created a resource, How To Get That Elusive Second Gift By Writing Better Thank You’s. Organizations all over the world have benefited from this, and you can too, for free! ​CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD​

Keep celebrating first things, saying thank you, telling stories, and laughing all the way to the bank!



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