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Matt Beem
President, Kinetic Companies, Inc.

Every gift doesn’t make the headlines

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<SATURDAY, May 03, 2008Saturday, August 8, 2009

This column was slow to come.

I don’t think I suffered from writer’s block. It felt more like writer’s blank.

As my sluggish idea mill sputtered to life, I leaned back in my journalist’s chair and reflected on the title and focus of this space: The Power of Philanthropy. Usually a story or national trend was close at hand to underscore something important to me.

Until now.

Which is when it hit me: Philanthropy isn’t always remarkable. In fact, it’s often quiet and unseen.

Earlier this week, for instance, representatives of the Community Services League Campaign Cabinet visited the J. E. and L. E. Mabee Foundation in Oklahoma. They hope to secure a challenge grant to upgrade, remodel and furnish the organization’s new central resources building in the former location of Portes Des Voyageurs Boat Repair and Maintenance at 404 N. Noland Road.

As is typically the case before an organization visits the foundation trustees in their Tulsa office, volunteer and staff campaign leaders looked under every rock for new commitments to add to the campaign gift list. Their efforts paid off.

A prominent Kansas City foundation informed Community Services League earlier this week of its decision to make a six-figure gift to the campaign, the result of Executive Director Sue Crumpton’s patient, persistent cultivation. It alone advanced the campaign noticeably.

But there were other gifts, too. One Eastern Jackson County couple, in partnership with Community Services League Board and Campaign Chair Katherine Barton, presented the organization’s case to and sought support from friends and neighbors. Their hard work yielded more than $20,000 in new gifts.

As remarkable as the six-figure foundation gift is, the collection of new commitments secured by a couple committed to Community Service League’s mission and willing to present it with conviction deserves its own headline. Unfortunately, though, such stories rarely make the news.

This journalist-gone-fundraiser thinks they’re worthy of the masthead.

There’s no doubt large gifts like that received from the Kansas City foundation are essential to a campaign’s success. They reflect the reality of philanthropy: More than 80 percent of all charitable gifts come from fewer than 20 percent of all donors.

But gifts like those the Eastern Jackson County couple secured make the difference. Without them, the credit for and ownership of significant endeavors like that Community Services League has undertaken are shared by a only handful of philanthropists; with them, many can join in a campaign’s success, claiming their share of its glow and developing ownership of the organization’s future.

Which brings me back to my original point: Philanthropy often isn’t remarkable. And leads me to a new one: It is renewable.

And philanthropy’s renewable nature is precisely why this writer believes less-than-six-figure gifts do deserve the headlines. As their donors are recognized and come to understand the difference their support makes for nonprofit organizations, they’ll want to give again. And again. And again.

As I survey the philanthropic landscape through my work on campaigns in Eastern Jackson County and around the country, I’m grateful for couples like that described here who make important gifts to organizations like Community Services League.

There’s no doubt large gifts are essential. But it’s the others, which often go unnoticed, that make the difference in every case.

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