Donor Impact Stories

For Keith Mesecher and Marge Wurgel, Generosity Is a Two-Way Street

By Laurie Stone

Keith Mesecher and Marge Wurgel say that they are just down-to-earth ordinary folks, and they don’t identify with the word philanthropy. What they do identify with is generosity. This couple’s generosity has done extraordinary things, and has allowed RMI to continue our important work.

Wurgel and Mesecher both fell in love with the environment at an early age — Wurgel as a child on family camping trips in her home state of South Dakota, and Mesecher in high school in San Diego, where the air was thick with pollution. “It hurt to look out over the canyons and see brown clouds between me and the world around me,” he says. It made him aware of the need to care for the environment. Fortunately, in 1979, when he was attending graduate school at Goddard college, he had the chance to hear Amory Lovins speak, and he realized, “This is the guy! He’s doing real work to care for the planet!”

After Mesecher graduated, he went to Colorado to visit Amory and that visit changed the trajectory of his life. “Amory told me to take RMI’s proprietary work on efficiency and go out and implement the vision. And he said, ‘if you make some money with it, you can give us some.’” Reading Competitek — RMI’s six-volume series on hundreds of energy efficiency technologies — led Mesecher to a 15-year career in state-of-the-art efficient lighting. It also led to a $10 donation in 1985 when he and Wurgel felt like they could start to give back.

Mesecher and Wurgel are now being trained as mindfulness meditation teachers. They believe that when people are mindful and paying attention to where we live, and we are caring well for ourselves, then we will want to live in harmony with the Earth. They have incorporated what they have learned from RMI into their lives — installing solar panels and a heat pump, becoming a two-EV household, remodeling their kitchen and home heating to eliminate gas — to reduce their impact on the climate. And that is another reason they support RMI; they feel that what they are doing on the individual level, RMI is doing on a macro level. “RMI is caring for the planet through compassion and kindness,” says Wurgel. “By the way you treat one another, corporations, governments, military leaders, it’s all done with compassion to care for our planet.”

And although Mesecher appreciates and understands the technical aspects of what RMI does, as a previous lighting analyst and designer, he also recognizes the importance of the human side.

“RMI’s ability to see things from the perspective of the people whose minds you want to change is critical. There’s a great deal of skill that goes into your communications with people of all stripes.”

Since that $10 donation, the couple’s donations have grown each year, and they are now part of RMI’s Solutions Council as well as being Legacy Society members, a community of supporters who have included RMI in their estate plans. “We were fairly poor for a long time,” says Wurgel. “Now we have some cushion and can turn over more of our financial savings to RMI to do its important work.” And Mesecher says that he is very proud to be able to donate to RMI. “The scale and scope of the work RMI is doing is breathtaking and it’s very gratifying to know that you’re changing the world.”

All of the couple’s donations have been unrestricted — flexible funding that helps RMI take risks, pilot, build capacity, and respond to emerging opportunities that can accelerate the pace of change — and they feel that is key to their generosity. “You are the experts, you know what the priorities are, and we trust you to make those decisions,” says Wurgel. “I think anytime a gift is given to an organization, the organization is more likely to know what the needs are at a particular time.”

But according to the Mesecher and Wurgel, their giving is not a one-way street. “It’s very gratifying to be able to support the beautiful work you’re doing,” says Wurgel.

“We get so much joy and sense of mission knowing we're supporting RMI and will be — even after we’re no longer alive. You can’t do what you’re doing without us. And we can’t do what we’re doing without you. It’s a community.”

The generosity of donors like Mesecher and Wurgel makes RMI’s work possible. Their yearly unrestricted giving fuels our work today, and their legacy giving is a lasting investment into the critical work that will be required of us throughout the century. And we are so grateful for both of those commitments.

“RMI is the most effective organization on earth as far as I know in changing the huge impact that energy has on the world,” says Mesecher. “I’m glad that our legacy will be your work in the future.”

RMI's Legacy Society

Our Legacy Society is a community of dedicated supporters who have included RMI in their estate plans. Addressing climate change will be the defining global issue of this century, which requires both long-term vision and funding. A planned gift is a lasting investment in RMI’s critical work, ensuring we can continue to drive the clean energy transition, as we have done for more than 40 years.

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Marge Wurgel and Keith Mesecher,
Legacy Donors since 2004