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Philanthropy Needs New Honorees

March 13, 2008

Raising MoneyEditor of the Nashville Scene, Liz Garrigan, had a bone to pick with the “social oligarchy” of our city in last week’s Scene. Her complaint was that our city’s charities have a propensity for making Nashville’s already-rich-and-famous recipients of their various awards (e.g. Father of the Year, Mother of the Year, Nashvillian of the Year, blah, blah, blah).And she is right. The lineup of award recipients at these fund-raisers is replete with politicians, CEO’s, and well-known philanthropists–a group that doesn’t need any more plaques on their walls.

Nashville is not alone in this fund-raising methodology. Take a look at any weekend’s “society” pages of any city in the country and you’ll see this same time-honored and tired way of raising money: it takes wealthy people to write checks–wealthy people bring other wealthy people to the party–so honor people who can bring the most wealthy people to the party.

I, like Garrigan, believe this method has its flaws. Quoting Garrigan:

“Clearly, organizers of many of these local charity events doubt that altruistic Nashvillians [or any city’s inhabitants] will write checks and gather overNashville Scene chicken and rice to toast those among us who are of ordinary means and status-but who are remarkable for their work, commitment and ideas.”

Truth is, it’s the volunteers and paid staff who get their hands dirty doing the real work of the charity–and they are rarely seen at the party. If they do attend, they sit in the back because they’ve been comped the seats. They belong, but the check-writers rarely even know who they are.Personally, I think both fear and cynicism are built into this method–fear of changing the way it’s been done; cynicism that people won’t give unless there’s an opportunity to drink, hang with their homies, and get their picture in the paper. (So much for Jesus’ “don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.”)I’m not trying to kill the party. I attend myself sometimes, largely because my wife is a VPYWCA of Development for the YWCA, I believe huge in what she does, and I understand the drill. And it’s a good time.But this blog would again plead that the politicians, CEO’s, and philanthropists open their eyes to the huge opportunity to marry their for-profit operations with their philanthropic hearts so that fund raising becomes more efficient and charities don’t have to pay for the booze.

As “events” go, let’s do more like the one sponsored by the Nashville YW on April 25. It’s a “Breakfast of Champions.” The guests of honor are “everyday champions” who have “encouraged, assisted or celebrated the achievements of women throughout their professional or personal life and/or through service to the community. ” And the speakers are women who have graduated through the YW’s domestic shelters and prison-to-real-world centers.

And maybe one of these days it will become chic for the Haves to throw parties for the Have-Nots. And the Have-Nots will be there to enjoy it.

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