Charlonne Ostrander’s job is all about money. Except it’s not.
As donations processing manager, Charlonne oversees all the financial donations that come into Union Gospel Mission. If you’ve given a gift to UGM, chances are, Charlonne has touched it. In this way, her work affects every other person in the ministry because, without the generous gifts of the community, UGM would not be able to feed, shelter, counsel, clothe or care for the needs of people who come through our doors (and none of the rest of us would have a job).
Charlonne has seen countless iterations of the story of the widow’s mite, where Jesus counted a poor woman’s two-penny donation to the temple as more valuable than the gold coins given by the rich because she gave everything she had. She knows that, small or large, every donation could have been spent elsewhere, and she honors each one as a precious and heartfelt encouragement to keep reaching out to hurting and homeless men, women and children.
In a recent interview, Charlonne talked about good stewardship, how God turns bad situations into blessings and why she believes each person, resident or staff, has been placed at UGM for a reason.
Charlonne’s a Montana girl. She and her family moved to Washington because her husband wanted to farm in Cheney. She started working at UGM as seasonal help during the holidays but transitioned to full-time hours when her husband passed away from cancer and her youngest child, Izzy, started school. Today, she manages the department.
In many ways, Charlonne said, her job is exactly the same day in and day out, but rather than resenting that, she cherishes it.
“I love it. It gives us a chance to set procedures and routines. We all know exactly what we’re doing when we go in there. I always say the only thing that changes is the volume.”
Mail is opened, sorted, counted and recounted, recorded, deposited and reconciled. “Because we’re working with money,” Charlonne explained, “we have to have accountability. One person opens the mail. Another person counts it. Another deposits it.”
Then receipts and thank-you letters are mailed. The goal is to accomplish all of that within 72 hours. Routine ensures accuracy, and accuracy is critically important when handling people’s money.
The volume of mail fluctuates from the slower summer months when approximately 150 pieces of mail come through each day to the holidays, when 1,000 pieces of mail is not uncommon.
Charlonne said one of the things that might surprise people about her job and her department is how big a part relationship-building plays.
“Being part of building relationships with the community is huge for us. We get to communicate with them, talk to them over the phone, email them. We’re handling their money. We know names. We know people. We may not have a face to go with the name, but we know these people give to us every month and have for twenty years.
“That’s really where I’m trying to take this. I want my department to see that. We’re building relationships, and sometimes, we’re the only connection a donor has to the ministry. So we’re trying to reach out to them, you know, and really cultivate that relationship and make sure they know we’re taking good care of their money.”
Even though her department is usually pretty invisible, Charlonne said, she wants people to know it’s foundational. “You don’t really hear about us. You don’t really see us. We’re not on the billboards. We’re not upfront on the stage at events. But we’re foundational. If we didn’t have money coming in, nothing else would be possible.”
She tries to instill that sense of integration and collaboration in her team, as well. “We’re not coming in and punching the clock, collecting a paycheck. We’re part of the vision of this ministry, and we’re invested. If we’re not invested in relationships, then what’s the point?”
Focusing on relationships and meeting new people hasn’t always been Charlonne’s bent. “That’s not my personality necessarily, to go out and be face to face with people or go next door and ring the doorbell and meet my new neighbors. I just kind of let it happen. So God has really grown me in that area.”
When Charlonne gets a call from a donor, more times than not, they’re upset or concerned. Something has gone wrong, but she has learned to embrace those conversations. “I get to meet a new person.” She gets to help. She works to resolve their concern. More times than not, she ends up inviting them to come to the Mission for a visit.
When she or one of her team members has made a mistake, she owns it. She has found through experience that taking responsibility changes everything.
She remembers one conversation in particular where she failed to make the correct designation for a gift. She said, “Yes, that’s on me, that’s my responsibility, and I didn’t do it. I’m going to try really hard to watch for your name and make sure I get it right next time.”
Charlonne’s response completely diffused the situation. “She ended up sharing that she was upset when she called, that she had so many things going on in her life, and for some reason, she just shared a whole bunch of stuff. She was crying, and she mentioned going to church, so I just said, ‘May I pray for you?’ She gave me three things. It was all personal stuff in the lives of her children, and it moved my heart.
“We talked several times after that. I think I’d shared with her going through the loss of my husband, and she was moved by my situation. She called me just to check on me.
“I thought, wow, how does God turn that kind of thing around?”
“Everything you do, do it unto the Lord.”
Charlonne put Colossians 3:23 at the bottom of her team’s procedural guide. “That one’s huge. I keep thinking we need to put it up on the wall. Because we can get in there and get bogged down in just the task of doing what we’re doing, and at times be overwhelmed by that. We’ve got to keep focused, knowing why we’re doing it.”
For those of you familiar with Life Languages, Charlonne’s a doer; she loves to have a list and work her way down it. Getting her to take time off can be a challenge. “I tend to say, ‘I’ve got two days on the weekend now. I can get all these other projects done.’ But I do love to be outdoors.
“My recharge is to get away. I love being at the lake, on the water. Kayaking, swimming, playing. We love to go camping. To be outdoors and be disconnected. You can be on the laptop at home, or watching movies or watching TV, so we really try to get away from all that.”
Charlonne concluded the interview with some words of wisdom for all of us who are connected to this ministry in one way or another:
“I’m always preaching that the Lord brought every single one of us into this rescue mission for a purpose, not just the men and women and children who come through our door, but staff members, volunteers, donors, everybody. He brought us into this ministry for a reason. It’s for growth, for change, getting over the trials in your life and worshiping God instead of your idols. But, even more than growth, He brought us here to bring us closer to Him. Every single one of us. He’s transforming my life here just as much as He’s transforming the guests and residents’ lives out there.
“I’m definitely called to be here.”
When you donate, your money feeds, shelters, clothes, and transforms men, women and children.