Philanthropy: the practice of giving money and time to help make life better for other people.
I really like the image Gov. Bill Walker uses to describe the importance of pulling together as Alaskans to overcome obstacles. He tells that when Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot’s community of Metlakatla needed to remove an unmovable object (a huge stump) the entire community gathered to pull on the same rope. I think the back- to-basics approach to state and local budgetary issues has a parallel in community philanthropy. The wants and needs of state and local government and community nonprofits are many, and the current accounts are in crisis, even if the corpus is sound.
Andrew Carnegie was speaking of philanthropy when he said it is harder to give away money intelligently than it is to earn it in the first place. This also applies to state and local discretionary budgets. We need to re-focus on the impacts we want to make with limited funds and learn what we can do without, in both government and philanthropy.
Try this philanthropy test.
1. If you had all the money you can dream of what would you do with it?
2. If you had to spend all of your time and money in the next three years on one project to make the most impact in your community what would it be?
3. If all of your charitable capital (time, talent, money) was lost what would you regret most not having done? (from George Kinder)
Now reflect on your answers. The first gives you the sense of the universe of possibilities. It’s the field of dreams. If you can see it, you can achieve it! There are plenty of examples of how individuals and communities have achieved remarkable projects in Alaska. So, too, there are plenty of examples of too much money leading to some pretty shoddy projects and programs — big money grants just looking for a cause. The second answer makes you realize that you have to refine, limit and prioritize or your philanthropy becomes diluted and possibly undetectable. The third answer is deeper, more fundamental, and personal — what really matters to you? It speaks to who you are and what you value most.
This one is most interesting to me during hard times. Ask yourself what service that a nonprofit delivers would you not want to live without? It is so affirming, essential and important to you that you would not want to live in your community if it didn’t exist? Would you be willing to pay for it? Would you be willing to do the real work yourself to provide it? One person might value the food bank, homeless shelter and their church. Another the museum, the local symphony and an environmental advocacy group. A third the Boys and Girls Club, ski trails and the hockey rink.
The fact that everyone answers uniquely, and that we all have different priorities even within families is what makes us a vibrant community. Everyone has good intention. But some programs and projects are inert and lifeless. They become a drag on resources.
Another image that I’d like to share took place salmon fishing in the Bering Sea. I watched a wooden skiff coming out of the breakers loaded with sockeye salmon trying to make it to a tender. From my vantage point there were only a few inches of freeboard. They were certain to sink and lose all of their catch, maybe even their boat and lives. They were in a tight spot. Next thing I witnessed the most remarkable save ever. It came with a frenzy of brute strength and determination without assistance and against all odds. Later my Aleut friend who had just saved his boat humbly recalled, “there is no better bilge pump ever invented than two guys who can’t swim with five gallon buckets.”
Necessity hones our focus.
The oil patch, mining and some fisheries are having a tough year. Layoffs and fear cause an uncertain future. Those of us in seasonal and cyclical resource industries like salmon fishing know when the times are good you want to believe they will never end, and it is easy to be generous. But when you have a season like this year when there were no pink salmon to fill the fish hold you wonder how you will have anything to contribute.
Hard times come to good people and to good states. Hard times don’t mean we contribute less. It means we have to find ways to contribute more. If you don’t have money, give your time and talent.
I feel that the state of Alaska’s greatest natural resource is not our oil, fish or forests. It is our residents — those Alaskans who are willing to pull together on the same rope or bail the boat together when it is in danger.
Let’s find ways to give more in our communities. The needs are many. Your local community foundation has the integrity, insight and experience to help guide you.
Buck Laukitis is a longtime Homer resident and a Homer Foundation trustee.