Philanthropy is Alive and Well

Jim Amidon — I was working with the folks in the Wabash Annual Fund office last week to implement fund-raising strategies when I got to thinking about philanthropy.
In poring over some data from last year’s Annual Fund, I noticed there were over 4,200 donors to the College, and that a pretty small group of people had the greatest impact on the Annual Fund. What I discovered was that just 13 percent of the donors to Wabash last year (543 families) contributed 83 percent of the record $3.125 million Annual Fund.
Both numbers — the 4,200 donors and the 543 families who contributed $1000 or more — are significant.
Who could argue that the last 12 months have been the most turbulent financial times in our lives?
Yet Wabash received more than 4,200 gifts from alumni and friends. And a small group of those people recognized the financial hardships of the College and stepped up to new heights. They had less to give, but somehow stepped up and gave more.
What an astonishing acknowledgment of their belief in Wabash College and the potential of its students. The students, 883 of them, are the beneficiaries of such extraordinary generosity.
Outside of Wabash — where private gifts sustain the institution — we don’t talk a lot about philanthropy in this community. I’m not sure why, especially since ours is a community of caring, giving individuals. Here, it seems to me, philanthropy just happens.
So how cool was it to read the story in Friday’s paper about the Montgomery County Community Foundation helping 22 important agencies with grants of more than $230,000? Oh, the group picture on the front page was nice and the dollar amount going to the various organizations was impressive.
But don’t just scratch the surface — dig a little to discover the deeper meaning of philanthropy.
How many people will make smart choices because of the funding for the AHEAD Coalition? How many children will receive vaccines or prescriptions because of the MCCF gift to Christian Nursing Service? How many kids will benefit from the new play areas at the Family Crisis Shelter, or take part in after school programs at the Boys and Girls Club?
We’re fortunate to have such a vibrant Community Foundation and its board leadership, which annually makes wise and difficult decisions about how to spread the resources around so that they have the greatest impact — particularly on our community’s youth.
Another event took place on the same day the MCCF grants were announced. I was making dinner when my doorbell rang Thursday night. (Well, actually, my barking dogs are currently subbing for my broken doorbell.)
Standing on my porch were two young Wabash students, both pledges at Phi Delta Theta fraternity. They were taking collections for the residential portion of the MUFFY drive. The students were only casually aware of MUFFY’s impact across Montgomery County, yet on a cold, wet, rainy night, there they were — knocking on doors and asking people to make a donation, even in tough times.
I wrote them a check, thanked them for coming, and offered them an umbrella as the rain began to fall a little harder. “That’s okay,” they said as they walked down the street.
I later found out that the Wabash students raised about $3,400 by the time they finished up, and even more is expected to come in. That’s a small slice of MUFFY’s overall goal, but it’s a start — and it’s more than was collected last year!
Most of those kids who knocked on doors don’t come from Montgomery County and hardly any will settle here after graduation. Unfortunately, they also won’t see the impact MUFFY has on the lives of the people of this community and the agencies MUFFY supports — like the Child Abuse Prevention Council, Red Cross, and Salvation Army.
Philanthropy is all around us. Last Saturday alone, MUFFY had its fund-raising “Extravaganza;” there were two different cancer fund-raisers; and the community continues to rally for young J.D. Taylor.
Lots of people define philanthropy differently. The word’s roots are Greek and it implies “loving one another.” But when writing checks or volunteering for an agency, how many people really think of what they’re doing as loving one another? Probably not that many.
But that’s what it is. Philanthropy is about love; about giving of our selves to others. And it’s safe to say that there’s never been greater need for such selfless generosity.
And it’s also safe to say that philanthropy — in all its forms — is alive and well at Wabash and in Montgomery County.