The Cheerful Giver is something like a saint, something like a Santa, but nothing like a celebrity.
At least as far as most of us can tell; he doesn’t give us much to go on.
One of the Midlands’ most generous benefactors is also one of its most mysterious, anonymously donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to dozens upon dozens of organizations in need over the past two years.
“He’s very caring and paternal. He’s very gracious and humble. He’s very grateful and giving,” said JoAnn Turnquist, president and CEO of the Central Carolina Community Foundation, which works with the Cheerful Giver to connect with the organizations he gives to. “He’s glorifying God by giving gifts and serving these nonprofits that are making a difference in the community.”
The Giver’s mission boils down to a pair of simple goals: to help and to inspire.
“We hope that the mystique of ‘The Cheerful Giver’ would start some conversations and make more people aware of the great needs in our community and the pure joy in helping meet those needs,” the Cheerful Giver said in an email through an intermediary to The State newspaper.
He’s glorifying God by giving gifts and serving these nonprofits that are making a difference in the community. JoAnn Turnquist, president and CEO of the Central Carolina Community Foundation
More than 200 Columbia-area organizations have been able to further their missions thanks to the Giver’s gifts, which have included a surprise donation to more than 50 organizations, nearly one a week, for the past year, including Big Brothers-Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, Epworth Children’s Home, City Year, Dress for Success, Senior Resources and The Women’s Shelter.
A fatherhood program, a children’s group home, a school for the disabled and a statewide flood recovery fund are a few of the recipients of the Giver’s generosity. His gifts have helped fund a therapy garden at a veterans’ retreat center in Blythewood, extra operating hours at a community center in West Columbia and a learning center at an under-construction library branch in Ballentine.
The Cheerful Giver is a real person – not a concept, not an organization, Turnquist said – who has a fund set up with the Central Carolina Community Foundation under the pseudonym. He meets regularly with Heather Sherwin, who coordinates donor relations for the foundation, to review various organizations in the Columbia area and learn more about them before giving.
“It’s very deliberate. He studies before he makes his decisions,” Turnquist said.
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7
A longtime resident of Columbia, a Foundation spokeswoman said, the Cheerful Giver supported various organizations for years, both openly and anonymously.
That was before he adopted the biblically inspired monicker in 2015, around the time of the annual Midlands Gives fundraiser sponsored by the Central Carolina Community Foundation.
The Cheerful Giver matched nearly $325,000 in donations, ranging from about $1,000 to $2,500 each for more than 200 organizations, during the 24-hour Midlands Gives campaign in 2015. Part of the goal was to encourage those organizations to leverage his gifts for more donations.
Since then, the Giver has mailed checks nearly every Friday to unsuspecting Columbia-area organizations.
“These gifts drop out of the sky into the mailbox of the receiving organizations,” Sherwin said. “For organizations that work so hard to survive every day, it’s like getting a big fat Christmas present in the mail.”
One of the Giver’s most recent beneficiaries, Richland Library, was “ecstatic” to receive the unexpected gift of $10,000 for library learning centers, Ballentine branch manager Kelly Jones said. The library decided to spend the money in Ballentine.
“We’ll be able to invest in the futures of our customers ... to provide them access to different, enhanced learning opportunities that match their needs and interests,” Jones said.
What the Cheerful Giver gives is more than just a check.
I don’t know of anything in which I’ve been involved that has brought me more pleasure and pure joy. The Cheerful Giver
One of the Giver’s goals is to encourage the staffs of the organizations that work hard to meet the community’s needs.
“It was our hope that as the staff members opened the mail and found a check for a significant amount of money, it would be a tremendous morale booster as they realized that someone thought well of what they were doing to the point of giving them financial support,” the Cheerful Giver said. “And being encouraged, they would be renewed in their work to help others.”
Since taking on his veiled persona, “the Cheerful Giver is having a ball,” he said of himself in the third person. “I don’t know of anything in which I’ve been involved that has brought me more pleasure and pure joy.”
And that’s a joy that anyone can experience, Turnquist said.
“You don’t have to be wealthy to be a cheerful giver,” she said. Families can “look at the example of the Cheerful Giver and use it to teach their children a valuable lesson of why you give. You give because giving is in your heart.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.
The Cheerful Giver’s gifts
$10,000 – Recent donation to Richland Library’s new Ballentine location
$324,496 – Donations matched for more than 200 nonprofits, ranging from about $1,000 to $2,500 each, during the 2015 midlands gives campaign
53 – Midlands organizations that have received one of the giver’s weekly surprise donations in the past year