“To give away money is an easy matter and in any man's power. But to decide to whom to give it and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man's power nor an easy matter.” Aristotle (384–322 BCE).
In a recent column I wrote about the impact of COVID-19 on our nonprofits. More needs to be written. I mentioned Harvard and noted that John Harvard left $150,000 on his deathbed. Elihu Yale donated £560, a substantial sum at the time, and Yale College was named after him. That is called philanthropy. The word philanthropy comes from the Greek philanthropia, (“philos,” “loving,” “anthropos,” “man”) and enters the English language in the 1600s, now translated as “love of mankind.” There are other associations with more familiar terms: charity, compassion, altruism, good deeds, support, giving, et cetera.
We are in the hurricane of a major pandemic and I am worried about what will happen to the region’s nonprofits which number over several hundred organizations. Nonprofits are being buffeted by financial challenges and likely there will be staff layoffs, closings and coping with conditions that may alter accomplishing their mission. We cannot allow that to happen.
The Commission on Private Philanthropy and Public Needs was established in 1973 to study philanthropy and the role of the private sector in American society to recommend measures to increase voluntary giving. It was headed by Connecticut’s John Filer, then President of the Aetna Insurance Company. Some of its recommendations were: lowering the threshold at which the estate tax kicks in, establishing a wealth tax, requiring foundations to spend all of their assets in a certain period of time rather than allowing them to exist in perpetuity. These are some of the once again new normal ideas circulating in philanthropic and governmental circles.
Following COVID-19 have you thought about what kind of society, globally, will emerge? Can we make our region stronger with financially stable nonprofits, whose service is so important to all of us? I don’t need to mention any particular ones, but my wife and I contribute to many. The amount given is unimportant, but the giving is, because it recognizes the significance of our philanthropy and the hope that we must sustain these organizations. It is a fight for survival.
There is no question we are living in an unsettled global society and a time where pain exists and with much uncertainly. But there is also innovation. Nonprofits must think about different paradigms of serving. The nonprofit organization that existed in late January 2020 may not be the same later this year. What shifts can nonprofits entertain? Instead of layoffs can part-time employment work? This also applies to our business and industrial sector. How many will be left and those that are, will they be the same? The usual and traditional sources of corporate philanthropy will undergo massive changes and so too will individual giving. Will board membership change? How will community groups respond to this pandemic, meeting the new needs of their communities?
We all need to support each other through this unprecedented time. We need to do much more to give nonprofits the support they need; our society depends on them. We need to build a better normal. Whether you embrace support for those with intellectual disabilities, health providers, persons with serious educational needs, feeding the hungry, the calming sounds of music, visiting an art museum, or the other organizations which enrich our lives. Reach out and give what you can, large or small, it will make a difference.
It is more blessed to give than to receive. Acts 20:35 (80-90 CE)
Richard L. Judd is President Emeritus of Central Connecticut State University