The Philanthropist in all of Us

Rande Richardson

Philanthropy is a major part of what defines America. In the north country, philanthropy has enhanced our communities. Do you consider yourself a philanthropist? When the Community Foundation embarked on the concept of developing a philanthropy center, inspired from a similar model in Central New York, a friend’s response was: “I love the idea, but I wish you would call it something else.”

    For someone who has spent a significant time striving to make service to the place you live increasingly inviting, inclusive and diverse, I was taken aback, perhaps even a bit offended. I quickly realized that somewhere along the line, the word “philanthropy” had lost its true meaning in the Greek origin of the word: “love of humankind.”

    Make no mistake, there are wonderfully generous people who have the ability to give financially in support of philanthropy, and our communities are phenomenally better for it. I am fortunate to witness it nearly every day. Financial resources can and have accomplished great things; however, money alone does not define philanthropy. Without other elements of philanthropy, the impact is never as great nor as sustainable.

    Theoretically, everyone has the ability to love their fellow human beings. It is as simple as using any of your resources to make life better for other people. Time, energy, ideas and advocacy are something anyone can share. In fact, many north country citizens have already done this, and have for hundreds of years. Some of our region’s greatest institutions, programs, and nonprofit organizations were made possible because of philanthropy in all of its forms.

    Have you ever volunteered for a community organization or effort? Have you taken time to help someone without a thought of receiving something in return? Have you ever given blood? Have you been a volunteer coach or mentor? Have you provided support or encouragement to someone when they’ve experienced a difficulty or a loss? If so, you are a philanthropist.
    So, by definition the opportunity to be a philanthropist is available to all of us. At the Community Foundation, we’ve encouraged more people to participate through programs that have helped inspire children, youth and younger generations. We’ve created mechanisms that provide people of all means a seat at the table for community change. It has resonated. We’ve grown. We have philanthropists that never thought they could be, seeing the meaningful impact they never thought they could have. Together, we’ve created more opportunities for caring more, loving more, sharing more and helping others more through giving in all of its forms.

    I believe that by practicing philanthropy in the way we want to shape our community and our world, we lead happier, healthier lives. We must inspire and nurture the ability for everyone to know they’ve done something to make their community a better place for others, and themselves. Time, energy and ideas are things everyone with some skill or talent can share, and have the joy in giving them.

    We all have a stake in the failure or success of community philanthropy. I challenge you to be thoughtful, intentional and deliberate in the way you affect humankind, looking to do it in more stewarded, lasting ways. Be confident that you’ve got what it takes to use your life to fulfill the true meaning of the word in support of the things you are most passionate about

    So who gets to call themselves philanthropist? It is a concept and a title that is accessible to everyone. It is important to embrace the broadening “democratization” of philanthropy, widening the playing field, and send the message that we must continue our focus on giving in all ways, including volunteerism and nonprofit service and leadership as well as monetary. Without the passion and resources devoted to philanthropy, not only would our communities be less vibrant, so would each of our lives. The next time you hear the word philanthropy, I hope you see yourself, your family, your children and your friends as the catalysts for real change.

    Our time on this earth is relatively short. That should not stop us from aspiring to have our impact be enduring. Now that I think of it, being a center for philanthropy (in all the ways it is expressed) is exactly the right name, for the right cause, at exactly the right time.

Rande Richardson is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. He is a lifelong Northern New York resident and former funeral director. Contact him at

May 2016: Nonprofits Today

Nurturing the next generation of giving

Rande Richardson

Rande Richardson

In the most recent issue of NNY Living magazine (Spring 2016), Norah Machia, who has long written about the work of the region’s nonprofit organizations, presented inspiring examples of the next generation making a real difference. If you accept the premise that vibrant communities need things that government can’t, won’t or shouldn’t provide and that the private sector has not found a way to make profitable, then you also believe that our charitable sector needs passionate supporters of all ages and backgrounds who are willing to give time, talent and treasure. [Read more…]

Urban Mission open house showcases renovations

The Urban Mission in downtown Watertown invited community members into its newly renovated building — a construction project that would not have been possible without the community’s support and contributions from donors.

“It was close to 500 donors that made this possible, donors who literally had handfuls of change, had $20 cash from their minimum-wage job, to the Community Foundation that pledged $200,000 right out of the gate giving us the kickstart that we needed. KB Global Care (Knorr-Bremse Global Care), who put us over the top with a $200,000 donation at the end and every single one in between, you have all made it possible, and we love you and thank you equally,” said Erika F. Flint, executive director of the Watertown Urban Mission.

The Rev. Steven M. Murray of Holy Family Church, president of the board of directors for the Watertown Urban Mission, said, “This is a statement that the community cares.”

“This is truly a historic day for this organization, and we’re blessed to share it with all of you,” Father Murray said.

He said that although the building has a new finish, the organization’s mission remains what it always has been.

“Like the mission itself, the people serve by their generosity to make a major impact on our community, and by our collective support of this project, we send a tremendous word of encouragement to those that are struggling,” Father Murray said.

Mrs. Flint said the Wednesday event offered tours and welcomed the community to see the upgraded Urban Mission.

“Today was about being able to show appreciation for all the hard work people have done to make this possible,” Mrs. Flint said.

She said the building isn’t completely finished — there are some “behind the scenes” odd jobs around the facility, such as completing exterior work and some insulation, but nothing people will see.

“It will be really exciting to see where we’ll be in the next few months,” she said.

The renovations created a more efficient and cleaner space to provide services. Food Pantry Coordinator Anita D. Ciulo said the move of the food pantry from the basement to the first floor is a greatly needed change.

“It’s easier to keep clean and easier to keep the shelves stocked,” Mrs. Ciulo said.

She said the food pantry in the Urban Mission is the third largest of the 11-county region served by the Food Bank of Central New York. She said an average of 500 families use their services every month, and sometimes they see as many as 50 families a day.

The Rev. Melodie Long, an Urban Mission board member who toured the facility, said, “It’s amazing even from when we were here a month ago how much this has grown.”

The nonprofit has gone from six individual offices and three work stations to 14 private offices. Mrs. Flint said the updated facility and layout will allow all of the Urban Mission services to be operated under one roof and offer those who are in need of services more comfort and confidentiality.

Aside from the Impossible Dream Thrift Store the Urban Mission provides five major programs, including the food pantry, the critical needs program, the Bridge Program, the Christian Care Center and the HEARTH II Program, Mrs. Flint said. Other programs provided include Food $en$e, Dollar Dinners, the St. Dismas Fund and community service supervision.

Mrs. Flint said that with the new entrance on the side of the building, people will have a spacious place to be welcomed and directed to any services they need.

“Basically every inch of this building has been touched in some way,” said Mrs. Flint. “We now have an area where people can come in, and when they come in for services, they want confidentiality during the intake process.”

Michael C. Miller, CEO of MLW Consultants Inc., Syracuse, said that he has volunteered his consulting services to the Urban Mission for the past three years, and that being able to come to see the final product of everyone’s hard work was an amazing experience.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Mr. Miller said, “The sense of community is what allowed this to be possible.”

Milton E. Stroup, a Cape Vincent artist, carved more than two dozen wooden plaques with the different variations of the group’s nine-point star that commemorate different community sponsors. He said the work of the people in the Urban Mission has been commendable and he feels privileged to have worked with them and to watch the development of the facility.

“When people come in here, they’re never under the best circumstances,” Mr. Stroup said. “It takes a special person to do this job, and they’ve worked really hard.”


By Katherine Clark Ross