Posted by Joanne Kelley
We launched the Colorado Giving Voice blog last August with my personal reflections about donating bone marrow to my brother, Tom. He just left me a voicemail on his drive home from a checkup at Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York, where the transplant took place exactly a year ago today. All’s well.
The experience inspired me to prepare the following remarks recently when I was asked to speak about philanthropy.
I’m going to guess you’re all philanthropists – every one of you.
Some people have a million or even a billion dollars or more to start a foundation.
You might donate through a community foundation or your workplace.
Or you might give of your time, money or self in other ways.
Bill Daniels made a fortune in the cable television industry and left his billion dollar estate to a foundation that’s already invested $300 million in the past decade in the areas Daniels cared about most.
The Penrose family, which built the Broadmoor resort and made money in mining, started El Pomar Foundation, which seeks advice from people all over the state to help it decide where to make grants to help local residents.
That same year El Pomar was founded, the Boettchers, who made money in industries like cement and happened to have their own iconic hotel – the Brown Palace — also started a foundation that invests in capital intensive projects such as senior centers and boys and girls clubs.
Bonfils-Stanton. Buell. Coors. Johnson. These are all names now associated with Colorado’s foundation sector.
Western Union and Xcel Energy are among the many companies that have set up corporate foundations to invest in worthy causes. And new generations of entrepreneurs have been creating foundations, too. Software entrepreneur Tim Gill started the Gay and Lesbian Fund and Gill Foundation. David Merage founded Hot Pockets and used some of the proceeds from the sale of the company to set up a Colorado foundation focused on areas such as early childhood learning.
There are many, many small foundations with less than a million in assets.
In the span of just a decade, the number of Colorado foundations more than doubled, jumping to more than 1,200 from 600. Assets more than tripled, topping $10 billion vs $3 billion a decade earlier. Total foundation giving in Colorado rose to almost $700 million a year from $169 million.
While foundation investments took a hit during the recent economic downturn, we’re seeing things slowly recovery along with the rest of the economy.
But foundations aren’t ATM machines. And they’re not even just about charity.
Think of them as venture capitalists for social change. This is the description Gov. John Hickenlooper used recently when he was explaining how more than 30 foundations came together to provide the initial support and expertise for Denver’s campaign to end homelessness in a decade.
You might be surprised to know what types of things foundations have provided the seed money for: the 911 system, Sesame Street, even a study that showed painting white stripes on the outer edge as well as the inner edge of highway lanes prevented collisions.
A number of Colorado foundations – including The Colorado Trust and Colorado Health Foundation — are focused on tackling the health care crisis in creative ways, either by working to build public will for health reform or by encouraging and teaching school cafeteria lunch ladies how to cook healthy food from scratch
For those of you who don’t have a billion or a million dollars to give, there’s still plenty of opportunity to be generous. Community foundations in cities and counties all over this state are pooling money from people of more modest means so they can collectively have a larger impact in their communities.
There are workplace giving programs (Mile High United Way, Community Shares of Colorado, and Caring Connection, for example) where employees can contribute a specified amount toward favorite causes. It’s an extremely effective way to make sure you regularly open your heart and your wallet
If you don’t think you can make a difference, consider this:
Individuals are responsible for the most of the charitable giving in this country. That adds up to about 75 percent of the hundreds of billions donated in this country every year.
You don’t even have to contribute money to be a philanthropist. Maybe you’ve volunteered time or you’ve had an unexpected chance to help others in need.
Last summer when I returned home from my summer vacation there was a Fedex box waiting on my doorstep. There was a test kit for collecting tissue samples to see if my bone marrow might be a match for a patient who urgently needed a transplant.
In this case it was for my brother. He had just been diagnosed with a life threatening condition called Aplastic Anemia. I’m grateful to be able to say he’s doing fine a year later.
While I did this for my brother, I discovered that people do things like this all the time for strangers. BeTheMatch.org is only way to find out about how this works. There are all kinds of nonprofits helping people make these sorts of connections.
This is what philanthropy is really all about. Sure, the money helps. But its true definition is ultimately about showing compassion for humankind.
Everyone can be a philanthropist.
You can start a foundation.
You can donate to a community foundation or give through your workplace.
Or you can donate directly to a cause you care about – whether that involves giving of your time, money, or yourself.
There’s a philanthropist in all of us.
Joanne Kelley is executive director of the Colorado Association of Funders.