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 rande@nnycf.org.

Youth Philanthropy Council Program Successful

Rande Richardson

By: Rande Richardson

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” –Aristotle

Now in its eighth year, the Northern New York Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council program continues to thrive as more and more high school students learn about the north country’s nonprofit organizations and the way they impact the lives of us all. In addition to the way it helps engage the next generation within their communities, it also helps provide valuable insight into what way they want to make their mark and change the world. This is on top of the $20,000 in grants they will award this June.

    We also get a glimpse into the way they prioritize and make decisions. We see what resonates with them and what types of organizations they feel provide the most value, and those they don’t. Nonprofit organizations should take note as they will eventually need to effectively engage future generations to remain relevant and supported.  

    For some time, we have sought a way to begin engaging even younger students. As the end of the school year approaches, an initiative is being prepared to be launched when school resumes in September. Targeted at middle school students, this new giving challenge program will be a precursor to the current Youth Philanthropy Program and will help spark an increased awareness of, and interest in, the work of area organizations.

    The Community Foundation and Stage Notes Performance with a Purpose, who share similar objectives, will join forces for good, empowering area middle school students to identify the way they would like to see their communities enhanced. Stage Notes will dedicate $5,000 of their show proceeds this summer, combined with $5,000 from the Community Foundation. By the time we enter the season of gratitude and giving in November and December, a total of $10,000 will be awarded to area nonprofit organizations.

    Students will compete for multiple, various grant awards.  Although specific details will be forthcoming, the challenge will involve two major components. Seventh- and eighth-graders will be asked to write about what “community” means to them— their definition of community and what elements help make the place they live strong and vibrant. The students must then explain which nonprofit organizations they believe can best support their vision for their community in areas of both basic human needs and overall enhancement of quality of life. The winning students will visit the organizations, personally present their gifts and see with their own eyes how their sharing and caring makes a difference, recognizing that the generosity of others has made it possible.

    We hope this program encourages families to think about what others do to make the place they live better and the role they can play in encouraging it, today. As a society, we believe in the importance of educating the mind, and both the Community Foundation and Stage Notes want to continue to encourage fostering educating the heart.

    There is no better way to involve youth in making a difference than allowing them to be a part of the decision making process. We also reinforce that we are a community together and we need good citizens to perpetuate making that community the best it can be.

    Sure, the grants themselves will have a direct positive effect on nonprofit organizations and the work they do, but it is even more exciting to think about the long-term multiplier effect of encouraging this type of thought at a young age. We look forward to sharing the results with you.

    One way or another, our children’s vision for our community will become our vision for the community. These types of meaningful experiences will help provide inspiration throughout life and refine a more deliberate approach. We all have a responsibility to help ensure the community they inherit is one we all would wish for them so the phrase “good enough”  is never used for the place they spend their lives. We know summer vacation is just around the corner, but you can understand why we’re already excited to get back to school!

People’s Will Propels Nonprofits

Rande Richardson

Nonprofit organizations across the north country provide services and enhancements to our quality of life that government can’t, won’t or shouldn’t provide or for-profit entities can’t offer without losing money. There are additional various constraints on nonprofits that create challenges to what we desire to have them reliably do to build strong communities for us all.

     That is why nonprofit organizations must raise funds, plain and simple. When communities believe an organization’s work and mission is important and valuable, they respond positively. Most of our area nonprofits successfully exist because the will of the people had demanded it and inspired a type of sacrifice that ensures that their ability to continue to make a difference is maintained.             

     For nearly half of my life I have been fortunate to help raise funds for causes I believe in. The region is blessed with many who have done the same for various projects, initiatives, programs and organizations. Anyone who has asked someone for money knows that the emotions range from elation and joy to terror, rejection and defeat. I often look for shining examples of citizen philanthropy to motivate and sustain me. There is one I keep going back to that deeply touches me each time I see it.

     A few years ago, CBS News told the story of young Myles Eckert. Nine-year-old Myles found a $20 bill in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Maumee, Ohio. While his first thought was to buy a video game with his surprise find, he quickly changed his mind.

     Myles’ father, Army Sgt. Andy Eckert, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq just five weeks after Myles was born. So, when he spotted a uniformed Lt. Col Frank Daily in that restaurant that day, he was reminded of the father he never knew. Something within him compelled Myles to forgo the video game to give a gift that was greater than himself and so much more than $20.

                Myles wrapped the $20 with a note that read: “Dear Soldier, my Dad was a soldier. He’s in heaven now. I found this $20 in the parking lot when we got here. We like to pay it forward in my family. It’s your lucky day! Thank you for your service,” signed, Myles Eckert, a Gold Star Kid. Not only did that gift forever affect Lt. Col. Daily, as the story became known, others were motivated to do the same. Individuals, organizations and businesses came forward, wanting to be part of the example Myles set. As requested by the Eckert family, gifts were directed toward Snowball Express, a nonprofit initiative providing support to children who have lost a parent during military service.

                On the way home from Cracker Barrel that day, Myles asked his Mom if he could visit his Dad. The image of Myles, and his footprints in the snowy cemetery, hugging his father’s gravestone with an American flag in the foreground, is one that is permanently etched in my mind. I am continually grateful that he showed us how a gift of kindness can not only help others but can inspire many more to do the same. In so doing, we are also reminded to keep our hearts and minds open to supporting each other and the organizations that help ensure the same spirit is perpetuated. Myles gave a gift much larger than $20. He showed us how it’s done.

                The Community Foundation feels strongly that part of its mission is to introduce concepts of civic responsibility, not as a mandate, but as part of the joy of a fulfilling life. In addition to its Youth Philanthropy program, which targets high school students, there are plans underway to explore engaging elementary and middle school students in similar ways. It will help nurture the kind of thinking that has helped make our region great. It will help sustain the nonprofit organizations as reliable providers of useful community programs and services. It will determine what type of community we have, and what values and traditions we uphold. As we all look inward and consider, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” Myles very clearly helped answer that question.

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 rande@nnycf.org. 

Nurturing and encouraging a community

Rande Richardson

Over the last several years, the Northern New York Community Foundation has continually looked for ways to extend its reach and scope to fulfill the true spirit and mission by which it was established in 1929. Moving beyond being a transactional grantmaker is a path we believe we should pursue, as making investments through grants and scholarships is really only part of the story. Those efforts have been well received, as the diversity and number of charitable funds and legacies administered on behalf of individuals, families, organizations and businesses has grown significantly. Also during this time, our service area extended to include St. Lawrence County, whose residents have responded positively, with many establishing permanent funds and others supporting the Foundation’s overall efforts to enhance the region’s quality of life. The experience of philanthropy should not belong to any one group or demographic and the options for expressing it should be as diverse as the community itself.

   The Foundation, through the support of its donors, past and present, has been able to implement new programs which encourage and nurture community awareness, leadership and instill the interest and desire to give back across generations. This is most evident in our Youth Philanthropy and Next Generation LEAD Councils. We have also have been steadfast in our belief that one of the most important responsibilities we have is to be a resource to nonprofit organizations that provide both basic services and quality of life enhancements by offering additional tools to ensure their ability to fulfill their mission for the long term. This has included helping build partnership endowments that serve to both diversify revenue streams in good times and bad and also provide donors with a heightened level of structure and long-term stewardship when they choose to support the charitable interests they are most passionate about. This is powerful!

   Because of these things, the Community Foundation reached a crossroads. Over a year ago, thoughtful discussion began regarding how to accommodate the increased reach and scope and ensure that we were properly positioned to continue to diversify the way we serve our community, the donors who support it and the organizations we are able to invest in. Moving simply to provide more office space was not reason nor visionary enough.

   We continually ask organizations we serve to find ways to minimize duplication, find efficiencies of scale, and look for opportunities to share and collaborate when it makes sense. We needed to do the same. We looked inward and asked: “is this an opportunity for us to do better, in a more collaborative way, doing more, for our community, its organizations, donors and all those we strive to serve?”

   The alignment of stars and months of due diligence provided even greater clarity on how to best enter the next chapter.

Following the lead of other community foundations across the state and country, we embraced the philanthropy center concept as a way to:

  • Create a sustainable model that will enable sharing and consolidation of resources (space, services, staff, ideas, technology) with other nonprofits in a synergistic setting while reducing operational costs for up to seven charitable organizations under one roof, including our own.
  • Provide convening and collaboration space for nonprofit organizations and community groups.
  • Provide additional space to expand and grow Youth Philanthropy, Next Generation LEAD and educational internship programs.
  • Offer additional ways to tangibly celebrate, recognize and honor north country philanthropy, and those who have made, and are making, it possible, with the hope that others will be moved and inspired to perpetuate it.

   The new space that we will share with others must be for and about our community. It will open the door to convenings and leadership opportunities and serve as a catalyst for specific and broad philanthropic activities.  

   The third floor will provide organizations the ability to develop a shared services model. All will benefit from the synergy of being united in a facility that promotes new thinking in regards to all ways that allow more charitable resources to go further. The Center itself will be both efficient and sustainable, as up to seven organizations (including the Community Foundation) share one home.

   With the help of Purcell Construction, an historically significant building was preserved, restored and returned to community use, enhancing the other investments being made in the Downtown area. With over $2 million raised, the community expressed its will to make it happen, sharing the vision for the space and its potential to broadly support all charitable organizations with contributions of various sizes.

In the end, the Philanthropy Center is a tool and will only be as valuable as the way it is used. We take this responsibility seriously. We hope you share with us in celebrating this next chapter in community philanthropy that this collaborative venture represents, while honoring the past, celebrating the present and preparing for the future. It is the natural next step in realizing and building upon the same bold vision and mission that the founders of your community foundation had 88 years ago that you continue to embrace, and that enhances the quality of life for us, and those who will come after us.

 

Preserve the stories that make us great

 

Rande Richardson

Rande Richardson

We owe it to those who have come before to do all we can, as best as we can, as long as we can, to make this place great. As we head into the season of counting blessings and sharing those blessings with others, it’s a perfect time to point out how well the north country does both of these. Our citizens, organizations and businesses have maintained and grown a great tradition and heritage of civic pride and caring over many, many years. Without that tradition, some of our greatest community assets would not exist today. [Read more…]

July 2016: Nonprofits Today

Eight steps to help define excellence

Rande Richardson

Rande Richardson

We know the nonprofit sector’s impact has been consistently diverse, positively affecting education, human services, the arts and culture, religion, philanthropy, health and economic development. The Northern New York Community Foundation is increasingly looking to diversify how it supports the work of nonprofit organizations in our community. The nonprofit shared services collaboration floor within the future home of the philanthropy center is one immediate and tangible way we can do that. [Read more…]

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…]

January 2016: Nonprofits Today

Be what’s right with our region this year

Richardson_RandeW-“Those who invest in our treasures are what’s right with Watertown. Make it your resolution to be a part of what’s right with Watertown.” — Mark Walczyk, newly elected Watertown city councilman

It is common at this time of year to look back and dream forward. During the New Year’s Day swearing-in ceremonies at Watertown’s Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library, one didn’t have to listen too hard to find a theme emerge — hope and optimism for a greater community. Those assembled were gathered in a building that itself serves as a living example of civic pride, love of community, respect for heritage and giving back. It is hard to be in that space and not sense the importance of thoughtful stewardship. The best way we honor those who have led before us is by ensuring that this generation and the next recognizes the great responsibility, privilege, honor and joy of being a trustee. We honor yesterday by advancing tomorrow. [Read more…]

November 2015: Nonprofits Today

For a sincere ‘ love of humankind’

Richardson_RandeW“I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will
not refuse to do the something that I can do.” — Helen Keller

Don’t let the word “philanthropy” scare you. Don’t for a second believe that the experience of philanthropy only belongs to someone else. The word comes from the Greek meaning “love of humankind.” That’s the only requirement. Simple. [Read more…]

September 2015: Nonprofits Today

A mission statement is your guide

Columnist Rande Richardson

Columnist Rande Richardson

Most organizations have a mission. Businesses have missions, projects and initiatives have missions. Even individuals have internal missions that help guide them, the decisions they make and how they allocate their resources of time, talent and treasure. [Read more…]