Posts Tagged ‘philanthropy’

Harnessing the Olympic Spirit

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Right to Play in GhanaI am an Olympics junkie.

For a couple of weeks every four years, I live and breathe the thrill of events as diverse as swimming, diving, snowboarding and ski jumping. This year is no exception. I am on the edge of my seat in front of the television every spare minute I have.

The Olympics never cease to give me a sense of warm fuzzies, patriotism and awe that a group of such incredibly diverse people and nations can co-exist for two weeks and celebrate the goodness in human nature. It would solve a lot of the world’s ills if we were able to bottle up the goodwill and save it for times when poverty, ideological and political differences create conflict.

Interestingly enough, there is an organization out there who does just that. Right to Play is an organization, born of efforts in the early 90s by the Norwegian Olympic officials to show support for people in war-torn nations and areas of distress. Today, the organization seeks to improve the lives of children “in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world by using the power of sport and play for development, health and peace.”

Leading this incredible organization is a former Olympic athlete – 4-time gold medalist Johann Olav Koss of Norway. The organization has expanded beyond the Olympics, but it continues to embrace Olympic ideals of sport and global citizenship as it works to improve the lives of children in some of the most impoverished areas of the world.

Last August, Rick had the opportunity to represent Operation Kids Foundation in Ghana as he toured first-hand some of the projects and programs Right to Play has established there. He commented:

Trained Right To Play coaches have the trust and confidence of the children they coach. Based on that relationship and the innocent distraction of “play,” a soccer ball can be used to represent a virus – say HIV – and a simple game can show a child for the first time how the virus spreads. The games address other critical issues such as peaceful conflict resolution which can, in regions where children are forced into military duty sometimes as young as 11 or 12, be the difference in whether some of these children experience a childhood in any sense, or go on to a normal adulthood. The simplicity of the Right To Play model is the genius of it, and to see it first-hand is inspiring to say the least.

It is hard to imagine, by American standards, how critical these simple concepts and programs are to a generation of children who bear the hope of their collective nations for a brighter future. We may look to sports as a way to obtain personal success, fitness, economic prosperity, recreation or geographic bragging rights, but to those Right to Play serves, sports can be lifesaving – the difference between dying young and going on to help their nations rise above status quo. Through these programs, individuals with a passion for sport are helping create a healthier, safer world for children – translating the Olympic spirit into everyday action items.

The Olympics certainly are an inspiring time – when the world feels good and right, and it comes together to celebrate the accomplishments of young adults who have dreamed of this fleeting moment all of their lives. It is hard not to sit back in the easy chair and bask in the warm glow of the Olympic spirit.

I challenge during the remaining days of Olympic competition to individually bottle that “warm fuzzy” feeling and put it to good use. We may not be able to capture it to use as a global panacea, but if each of us paid a little bit forward, we could make an enormous collective impact on the world.

As you cheer for your favorite curling team, hold your collective breath as Lindsay Vonn hits the slopes or gasp at each gravity-defying snowboard trick, remember that feeling of goodwill and resolve to share it with others. Spend a little extra time teaching a child something new. Give a little more to your favorite charity. Be a little more generous with your time. Take a few minutes to chat with your neighbor – the one who might be just a little different than you. Revel in the diversity of the human race. Celebrate goodness and hard work in your community.

Harness the Olympic spirit to make the life of one other person a little better.

-Sara Brueck Nichols

Perhaps Not All News is Bad

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

It should come as no surprise that donations from America’s most generous donors dropped considerably in 2009.

Since 2000, The Chronicle of Philanthropy has compiled an annual list of America’s most-generous people.  According to the Chronicle, donors on the Philanthropy 50 donated a total of $4.1 billion to nonprofits last year.  An impressive figure, but a drop of nearly 75% when compared to 2008’s total of $15.5 billion.  This year’s total also represents the second lowest year since the newspaper began tracking a decade ago.  For those on the list, the median gift in 2009 was $41.4 million compared to $69.3 million in 2008 and $74.7 million in 2007.

While these figures only confirm that 2009 was a dismal year for nonprofits, the recession may have catalyzed other trends which could ultimately strengthen the sector as a whole.  One of those trends, as noted by the Wall Street Journal, is the fact that a growing number of donors are no longer content to simply write large checks.  They are seeking ways to become more engaged in the process, and they are interested in finding organizations or strategies that can provide measurable returns on issues important to the donors.

The Journal emphasize this point with a quote from Stacy Palmer, the editor of the Chronicle, who stated: “Wealthy Americans increasingly see philanthropy as way to catalyze big changes in society, rather than choosing only to write a check for a new building or to further existing projects…. More and more top donors now put their money, clout and vision into fueling the development of new ideas and shaping future leaders–whether in education, business ethics, economics or climate change.”

Another interesting trend was also highlighted by the Journal in an article posted at the beginning of the month.  The author recounts how the recession has forced a number of nonprofits to close and more significantly, it has catalyzed the merger of others.  While not always an easy process, these mergers have resulted in cost savings and higher returns for a number of organizations.

These themes of mergers and greater collaboration among nonprofits is also finding a foothold among donors.  As noted in the article, funders like the the Lodestar Foundation, started by Arizona entrepreneur Jerry Hirsch, now awards a $250,000 annual collaboration prize to encourage nonprofits to increase efficiency and eliminate duplication by joining together. This spring, world leaders and philanthropists will meet at Oxford University for former eBay President Jeff Skoll’s annual forum on social entrepreneurship with the theme being: “Catalysing Collaboration for Large-Scale Change.”

In my perspective, these two trends are important to identifying new solutions to timeless social problems as well as increasing the efficiency of a sector not always know for effectiveness. While 2009 will definitely go down in the philanthopric record books for being a terrible year, perhaps it did not bring only bad news.

-Christopher Lindsay