Humanitarian Awards All Around

Anne, my best friend from my home town, was in Seattle recently and as we caught up over a glass of wine she reminded me of a conversation we'd had as teens about our futures.  Apparently I'd announced I would become a philanthropist.  I must have imagined glittering parties where I would hobnob with big-hearted celebrities while debating which auction item to buy for the good of the world.  Where or how I might come by my millions to donate was merely a detail.  I smile fondly at my young self but realize now how fortunate I was to have family "philanthropists" as role models.  My maternal grandfather was a volunteer fireman, my paternal grandfather was a fundraising powerhouse for school athletic programs, my mother has raised money with her PEO club (and countless other women’s groups) and my father has given time and money through his Rotary Club.  At my Catholic high school, all seniors had to choose a personal volunteer project for a class called Christian Service so I chose to walk dogs at the Humane Society, which ended up being a healthy dose of animal therapy for an angst-y teenager.

Fast forward a few years and guess what?  I have attended many charity auctions and black-tie fundraising galas but rather than accepting awards for my humanitarian largesse, I've usually been in the wings printing name badges, directing a parade of servers, making sure the speakers had water bottles and checking microphones.  And while these events can raise a lot of money, the truth is that glitzy fundraisers are a dime a dozen and are becoming passe.  The cost to put on those swanky events could instead be going directly to the cause itself.  PONCHO, the venerable Seattle institution which spent 50 years raising $35 million dollars to distribute to local arts organizations decided to close down recently as they realized the fundraising model is changing.  Donors want transparency to make sure their money is maximized.  With today's technology, grassroots fundraising is becoming more and more powerful as social networking and websites like Catapult spread the word, raise money and keep organizational costs down.

Better than spending time in stuffy conference centers with lukewarm dinners and cheap champagne, I now prefer community action fundraising events.  Yesterday I helped raise over $10,000 by walking 15 miles with the Seattle Ladies Underground Giving, affectionately know as the SLUGS.  The collaborative effort involved 25 women gathering $25 from 25 people to build a pre- and post-natal clinic in Malawi through Partners in Health.  Since becoming a mother myself and learning that complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for 15-19 year old women and adolescent girls in developing countries, maternal health is my banner cause.  The event raised a pile of money and we all enjoyed a sunny day out in Green Lake Park exercising with our families and friends.  Margaret Mead's words ring ever true:  "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Photo courtesy of Julie Myers

As he grows older, I want to teach my own son to be a caring and generous community supporter. I like the idea of giving a child $25 (or whatever amount is appropriate) and sitting down together each year to create a giving plan for causes that are important to him.  Perhaps he'll want to adopt an endangered animal, donate toys and clothes to a homeless shelter or serve dinner at a soup kitchen.  Everyone has different causes that tug on their heartstrings.

What causes do you care about deeply?  What charities make you pull out your pocketbook?  Not only money, but time and advocacy too are important drivers for changing the world.  It is possible that you may not even realize that you are a philanthropist.  If you volunteer at your child's school, buy Girl Scout Cookies or offer a dollar to the down-on-his-luck-veteran outside the grocery store, you too are a philanthropist.  Vigorous applause please as we hand out humanitarian awards all around.  My fellow SLUGS and all our supporters get an extra gold star.  Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place.

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