Posts Tagged ‘community’

A True Saint

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Drew  Brittany Brees, Operation Kids: Rebuilding New Orleans CampaignNo Super Bowl-bound player has energized a city like quarterback Drew Brees has energized New Orleans. Much ado has been made about Drew’s on-field success and his charity work. However, few articles have detailed the extent of his philanthropic endeavors. It is more than just a donation or an athletic field. It is an investment in a whole city’s children.

It is not unusual for high-profile athletes to form their own foundations and participate in philanthropic work. It is unusual to dedicate the personal time and resources Brees and his wife, Brittany, commit to their foundation and community. They have become a model of philanthropy “done right.” I have worked with some of the sports world’s most committed philanthropists. Brees joins these as a shining example of how an athlete’s prominence can be translated into a lasting legacy of social impact and lives changed.

Brees has an intuitive sense regarding the opportunity and responsibility surrounding his life as a just-arrived, high-profile athlete in a city still reeling from Hurricane Katrina. He viewed his move to New Orleans as being about more than just football. He saw an opportunity to make a meaningful difference.

Brees was introduced to us in the summer of 2006, and we worked hand-in-hand to help his philanthropic vision become a reality. Each project he worked on through his Operation Kids: Rebuilding Dreams in New Orleans campaign was a “catalyst project” that would continue to generate additional recovery. Employing the same discipline he exhibits on the field, Brees thought in terms of impact and measurable results in his philanthropy.

Brees’ hands-on participation and a disciplined methodology made this campaign different. The funding and management of the catalyst projects immediately benefited the community, and then triggered the flow of funding for other adjoining, critical projects by relieving the “tug-of-war” that held funds captive.  Brees created an environment where giving and results were multiplied and expected. Each project was completed on time and on budget.

He also insisted on another step. Each of the projects was required to work under a strict method of project “coaching” prior to funds being dispersed. A local project coordinator was available at any time, and unannounced site visits occurred to ensure required progress. Drew also introduced “Expect More,” a results-driven motto to the community that echoed throughout the process.

Brees also demonstrated primary fiscal commitment by contributing more than $250,000 of the $2 million raised. He also exercised his professional influence and secured used weight-room equipment for a school’s football program. Large companies, who had grown dissatisfied with the impact of their prior giving in New Orleans, were energized and reached out unsolicited to join the collaborative effort.

The results, a mere 2 years later, mean:

  • More than 2,000 children ages 5-18 have increased access to after-school programming.
  • 110 children of low- and moderate-income families attend the first fully accredited childcare facility rebuilt post-Katrina.
  • Thousands of students and community residents utilize brand-new athletic facilities at a major park and several schools.
  • 25 high school students participated in summer science internships previously not available to them.
  • Hands-on nutrition, health and education resources are available to more than 550 school students and their families as part of the funding and development of the innovative Edible Schoolyard-New Orleans.
  • More than 2,000 intellectually disabled youth in New Orleans have mentors as part of reestablishing the local Best Buddies chapters.

While we celebrate the Saints’ march to the Super Bowl, I hope equal attention is given to the Brees family for their inspiring philanthropic leadership on behalf of a beleaguered city’s children.

-Don Stirling

Note: Drew Brees i s part of the Pepsi Refresh Super Bowl Grant Project. We encourage everyone to click here and vote for Drew between now and Friday, February 5. The winner gets $100k grant to go toward their charitable project. Drew would use his grant money to rebuild the F. Taylor Hope Lodge for children fighting cancer.

Back to Basics

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

One could almost hear the collective “sigh” as 2009 came to a close. It was a difficult year to be sure, marked with equal doses of tangible challenges and the fear of the unknown just beyond our view. Our daily struggles were made that much more difficult by the uncertainty of what else may lie ahead.

This nation has been through at least a dozen recessions, a couple of staggering market crashes and a Great Depression. We have seen times like these before, but that is cold comfort to younger generations who may not yet realize that we have always emerged stronger from our trials. However, there is a significant difference in this current crisis that concerns me: it is the simple fact that we did so much to bring this on ourselves. For that reason, I feel there are lessons to be learned and for the future welfare of the children of this nation and the world, I pray we learn them sooner rather than later.

I do see glimpses of a “back to basics” philosophy that is rising from the excesses that helped bring us to this point: in my life, my neighborhood and the broader community.  I hear Dennis Haysbert in comforting tones, extolling the virtues of “a home cooked meal, time with loved ones; appreciating the things we do have.” In a recent Allstate spot, he goes on the say, “It’s back to basics, and the basics are good.” Incidentally, this is not a plug for Allstate, but I proudly quote Dennis because I know what a great man he is and that those lines are something he actually believes. Further  we have worked closely with the Allstate Foundation and I can tell you that Jan Epstein at the Foundation is one of the great souls on earth. But I digress!     

As one who seeks to address need on a daily basis, I consider lessons we have been forced to learn in 2009 to be worth learning and long overdue. But my fears are twofold: first, lessons are all-too-easy to forget: when gas hit $4.00 a gallon, we were all suddenly conservationists and the predictions were bleak for SUVs and other giant forms of transportation. The talk was all about hybrids and smaller cars and transportation rather than vehicles that show our status. However, within weeks of price moderation, it proved to be a short-lived lesson.

Second, there may be some, perhaps many, who do not see any lessons to be learned. There are folks who see much of what has happened as someone else’s fault and therefore nothing they can do will make things any better. But try as we might to shift the blame, we cannot escape the fact that greed, impatience and selfishness has much to do with our dilemma - and it was not all corporate. Sure we were spoon-fed bad mortgages, but we as consumers used them to buy houses we could not afford, temporarily suspending all common sense. Available credit was, well, too available, but we still had the power as to how much we would use. And these complex financial instruments that defy explanation and have nearly wrecked the markets didn’t seem so bad when our individual portfolios were growing by leaps and bounds.

As economic indicators point to clear signs of recovery (albeit a slow one), I wonder if the pain has been meaningful enough to spare us from repeating this desperate scenario down the road. I realize that is a harsh thing to say and will not sit well with someone who recently lost their home or job, but on a more global societal scale, I think this is an important point because it is clear to me that those in need depend upon the generosity of those whose lives are more stable, more in tact. Children here and around the world, rely on the fact that there are those who can and will help them rise above their poverty and need.  This country has always been the stable, willing and generous source, for as long as I have been alive. It would be tragic to relinquish that role because of our own greed and selfishness.

As for us in the non-profit space, are there lessons to learned, specific to philanthropy? The answer here, from our perspective is again, “yes.” Just a few lessons that perhaps an advisory firm would be the first to notice:

Don’t let an ongoing donor turn into a line item on the budget.
Do not fail to appreciate ongoing donors because they have established themselves as reliable. Report, communicate, acknowledge and did I mention, report! Every day we meet with donors who express frustration over the fact that in the beginning, they could see the impact of their support with a given charity. But over time, the communication breaks down and the accountability tends to wane. This may go without saying, but in this current environment, we would all do well to take care of existing support rather than trying to generate new donors. Now more than ever, a charity needs to prove its value.

Do not assume your message is clearly understood.
While this applies to the previous issue, it is also different. One of the real challenges in the non-profit world is communicating a relevant message. In an economy where the “casual donor” is disappearing, we can no longer count on small donation based purely on personal relationships who may or may not understand your mission, but give anyway.

 Now is the time for charities to state their case, clarify exactly what it is they do, as well as how they measure results. Like the proverbial mechanic whose car is always broken down in the yard, we in the non-profit space sometimes becomes too preoccupied with mission and fail to take care of our own marketing and messaging needs.

Consider partnerships and joint efforts.
In the for-profit space, mergers and acquisitions, take-over’s and competition are a way of life. Those terms have rarely been applied to non-profit work because we feel so good about what we are doing and after all, it is charity!

I would reexamine that attitude. If there are other organizations that you would be better to partner with, join with or otherwise combine with, do so. So much overhead and administration in the charity space is needlessly replicated. Good intentions are not enough of a qualifier to start a charity and deserve the public trust. When you accept precious donated funds, you have a fiduciary responsibility and if you find your passion has turned into an unwieldy administrative and compliance nightmare, perhaps there is another way you can be part of the solution. Again, a possibly harsh concept but we need to be honest and admit that sometimes passion and even ego can get in the way of better judgment when it comes to charitable efforts.

As we emerge from this difficult period, it is worth asking ourselves, are we more compassionate? Do we care more or less…about those in need? Has the struggle made us tougher, or gentler? Have we become smarter through it all?

Would we actually consider spending less on a car, feeling that perhaps the money could be better used elsewhere? Do we look at the size of a house differently than we did before? Does the family inside matter more than the square footage? Could our recreational budgets be pared down just a bit, in favor of helping someone in need? Could we consider taking our name off the CEO line and providing our passion and talent to an organization that is delivering better results?

These are deep and potentially annoying questions that no one has the right to suggest. They are questions better asked of ourselves, and I am confident that there are those who are asking them. I hope these will be the next generation of leaders that will keep us from a past we do not want to re-visit.

-Rick B. Larsen