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A LESSON FROM NOTRE-DAME

by DAVID AFT

The fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral

The fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral

Shock and sadness swelled inside me as I watched the video footage of Notre-Dame Cathedral ablaze on Monday evening. Like many, I’ve stood in awe of the ancient structure — a medieval building built by the hands of thousands between 1160 and 1260 that today is one of the most widely recognized symbols of Paris, France, and European culture.

Just hours into the wake of the devastation, hope emerged. Calls to restore the heavily damaged Notre-Dame to its symbolic majesty were answered with pledges of financial support. Individuals, businesses, and foundations across the globe pledged more than $300 million within the first 24 hours of the fire. The speed of the philanthropic response to support Notre Dame not only reinforces the notion that the many throughout the world view the cathedral as belonging to the whole of mankind, but also emphasizes that in today’s digital world, we can move quickly to raise money for causes close to our hearts.

I read that on Sunday, a GoFundMe campaign to help three black churches rebuild from arson had raised less than $50,000. But after the outpouring of generosity on the world stage in response to the burning of Notre-Dame Cathedral, donations for the small Louisiana houses of worship skyrocketed to $1 million in just two days. Sometimes it just takes a reminder — a nudge — to get the attention of philanthropists.

I often wonder what magic ingredients must be present to create such a groundswell of interest and support, as there are so many causes that deserve our collective and thoughtful action, but never mobilize the same kind of response.  Some might say that these other causes don’t rise to the same level of global significance, while others will argue that so many worthy endeavors suffer from their inability to adequately share their message.  I guess after more than thirty years of trying to find common ground between important causes and those willing to open their pocket books and wallets in support, I am still looking for a way to make it happen more often.

I feel fortunate to live in a time when responses to tragedies can move so quickly. However, I see tragedies each and every day — parents who don’t have the money to purchase food for their families, people in a downward spiral as a result of a drug or alcohol addiction, service men and women with PTSD who don’t have access to mental health services. If the world can move so quickly to rebuild Notre-Dame, can we prioritize our community’s problems and work more swiftly to address them?

I know we can.

David Aft is the president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia. He has worked in the nonprofit field for over twenty-five years and is a recognized resource and noted speaker on charitable enterprise, civics, fundraising strategy and community development.

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Burr Park - a Legacy Project

by DAVID AFT

You could’ve heard a pin drop. The crowd of 600 fell silent as Dot McCrory positioned herself on the stage clutching a piece of paper with her wrinkled hands. After clearing her throat, she leaned near the mic and read a poem she had carefully crafted for her friend, Jeanne Burr. She spoke of generosity, personal commitment, love, and fellowship. These were the powerful words—carefully chosen—she used to convey her friend’s significant financial contribution to build and maintain a park in Downtown Dalton.

At 94, both Dot McCrory and her friend, Jeanne Burr, are just a few years from becoming Centenarians. They are part of what Tom Brokaw celebrated as, The Greatest Generation, pulled from a line in his 2013 book that read, “It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”

Men and women in Dot and Jeanne’s age group are made of different stuff than the rest of us. They have lived their lives not for fame, reward, and recognition, but with a high moral compass rarely witnessed in today’s world. They’ve acted bravely and selflessly and did things because it was simply, “the right thing to do.”

People nearing 100 consider each day as a gift and view time as a fleeting dimension. A Centenarian is very aware that their window of opportunity is closing, and they feel an urgency—a compelling call to act—that many of us do not understand yet.

Jeanne Burr understood this when she visited the office in December of 2016 inquiring about ways to give back that would continue giving back well into the future. She wanted to put a legacy project into motion that would send the world a message—that the arts are for everyone and bring people together. And she wanted to live to see it take flight.

We helped her fast track a design and initiate the Burr Performing Arts Project, which yielded a beautiful greenspace with a full-sized performance stage in the heart of Downtown Dalton. We celebrated its opening in May this year at what our community called, JeanneFest 2.0. Hundreds of people came out to personally thank Jeanne and inaugurate the newest addition to Dalton’s burgeoning attractions and landmarks. It was there in the quiet of an attentive crowd that Dot McCrory delivered her tribute.

If you haven’t heard of Jeanne Burr or the lovely park she has given to our city, please take three minutes and watch the video below, then ponder your own imprints on humanity—your own legacy project. As always, our Foundation can help you craft a project that will make a difference now and forever. Call us and give us the honor of helping you.

David Aft is the president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia. He has worked in the nonprofit field for over twenty-five years and is a recognized resource and noted speaker on charitable enterprise, civics, fundraising strategy and community development.

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... your part of the world

By David Aft

Our collective hearts go out to the victims and families of those who perished or were wounded in Sunday night’s mass shooting in Las Vegas. I know this event, as well as the other recent tragedies and natural disasters, are weighing heavily on all of us.

Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Johanna Strickland/Handout via Reuters (GPB, PBS NewsHour)

Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Johanna Strickland/Handout via Reuters (GPB, PBS NewsHour)

It can be very easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless. If that happens, then the forces of evil win - every time.

Over the last few years, Vu Le has become an important voice in the nonprofit world. In his column this morning, he noted the following, and I believe it to be an important message in these challenging times.

“Though it seems the work we each do may be too remote or too small or too unconnected to make much of a difference in light of everything, be assured that it does," Le wrote. "Last week the Montana Nonprofit Association introduced me to an uplifting essay by poet and author Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, called 'We Were Made for Times Like These.'"

Here’s the passage Le referred to:

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.
— Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Over the past few weeks, I have made it a point to watch people mobilize to help others.  Whether it was a corporation sending drinking water to Houston or the daughter of a friend of mine who organized her own relief effort for storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, people and organizations respond in times of need. Most examples are far less dramatic and occur all of the time. Whether you participate in a your church’s latest mission trip or make a donation to this year’s United Way campaign, your gifts shape the world around you and contribute to the accumulation so eloquently described Dr. Estes.

Every day I see evidence of our individual and collective resolve to make the world a better place. These acts continue to offer both an optimistic vision and a proven path. Charity in and of itself may not heal the world, but collective action and investment can help us through our toughest times.

David Aft is the president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia. He has worked in the nonprofit field for over twenty-five years and is a recognized resource and noted speaker on charitable enterprise, civics, fundraising strategy and community development.

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What We Share

by DAVID AFT

It seems like only yesterday that we all took a moment from our busy lives to put on a pair of silly cardboard sunglasses and stared at the sky.  My wife and I joined a great number of our fellow Americans in looking skyward and watching the moon eclipse the sun.  For a moment or three (depending how far you ventured into the celebrated “zone of totality”) our differences were set aside in favor of a truly unique and other-worldly experience. 

solarglasses.jpg

Beyond the natural beauty of this infrequent collusion of heavenly bodies, it was hard not to notice that for a brief moment, it seemed we were all on the same team. There wasn’t any of the contentious rancor that has so characterized our modern world. Even the President took a moment to look upward. He understood that it was bigger than all of us.

Over the weekend, I joined most of the country in watching Hurricane Irma and its devastating dance through the Caribbean and up the coast of Florida. We all held our breath as we thought about our friends and neighbors.

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Utility service trucks organized, staging in strategic locations, ready to move in as soon as the storm’s winds subsided. 

Once again, we focused and we acted - not as a fractured commonwealth, but as a team. 

There are many things that bring us together - some exciting and extra-terrestrial, like the eclipse, but some with a more serious and human aspect.

Now, you may ask what all of this has to do with philanthropy and charitable giving. The answer is pretty simple – we are at our very best when we work together and remember that our highest aspirations and deepest commitments are best served when we focus our energies on the things larger than ourselves.

Sometimes it seems like we will never find the balancing point between our individual perspectives and our collective needs. 

The fact that we pause for a moment to look up at the stars or commit ourselves to the welfare of our common man, prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we can focus on things that are larger than all of us.  Further, these opportunities also remind us that in the face of adverse conditions, we, as a country, are willing to line up, like the utility trucks we saw earlier this week headed for Florida and Texas, and focus our efforts on making a difference.

This spirit is alive and well, and the last few weeks have provided ample reminders that when we pause for a moment, the noise and bickering that so often characterize our world, take a distant second to our resolve and commitment. This is truly the heart of philanthropy.

David Aft is the president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia. He has worked in the nonprofit field for over twenty-five years and is a recognized resource and noted speaker on charitable enterprise, civics, fundraising strategy and community development.

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Recognizing Jonas Salk

by David Aft

As I was waiting for a colleague to join me for breakfast, I took a moment to flip through Facebook and catch up on the meanderings of friends, family and the world at large. Within my first few clicks I was greeted with a reminder that today is the birthday of Dr. Jonas Salk. Most will remember that Salk led the team of researchers who developed the polio vaccine.

To put things in perspective, until the discovery of this very simple and effective measure, tens of thousands of people a year succumbed to the debilitating ravages of Polio. The disease spared few who were infected, often leaving its victims with a lifetime of crippling illness. The human cost was immeasurable.

The work of Salk and his team changed the face of the world.

For this alone, our species owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to this pioneering researcher.

While Salk’s gift to humanity has few equals in the annals of history, it is not his discovery that I find most remarkable – it is how he chose to handle the commercial implications of his work.

In most cases, pharmaceutical companies and other researchers invest vast sums of money in the development of new drugs and treatments. They do this for humanitarian and commercial reasons. Many would argue, and I would agree, that those who invest their resources in developing today’s miracle cures should receive adequate compensation for their work, as it is often speculative and extremely expensive.

When confronted with these issues, Salk chose not to retain ownership of vaccine, rather choosing to make it available to all who could use it and licensing its production for free.

In this case, one of the twentieth century’s greatest discoveries could have been a hugely successful pharmaceutical product. Salk could have made millions, if not billions, of dollars. Instead, he chose to make nothing, preferring to give his very special discovery to the world for free.

This arrangement has played a significant role making sure this lifesaving vaccine would be available to everyone at a very low cost. He chose to take his profits in the form of direct benefit to humanity.

While difficult to estimate its financial value, the human value of this approach has been unbelievable in scale. The lives that have been saved and the number of Polio cases that have been prevented can be measured in the millions.

Polio has nearly been eliminated world-wide, with fewer than 50 cases being reported in 2015. A staggering statistic given that in the early twentieth century, public health officials estimated that there were about 50,000 new cases of Polio each year, just in the US.

Salk’s gift is possibly the greatest charitable gift of all time, and it keeps on giving.

Thank you, Dr. Salk!

David Aft is the president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia. He has worked in the nonprofit field for over twenty-five years and is a recognized resource and noted speaker on charitable enterprise, civics, fundraising strategy and community development.