Although December may not be the end of the fiscal year for everyone, it is still a time to look at what has been and to create some hopeful expectations for the new year. All of us are concerned about our very important year-end giving campaigns. At least this year we can assure our donors that the IRA Rollover Provision for Charitable Giving is in place and here to stay. December is a time of peace, goodwill and small and large acts of generosity and kindness. January is a time to reap the harvest of generosity and invite ourselves and others to recommit to the mission of making the world a better place for all people.
In the aftermath of the campaign there is much discussion about the accuracy of the polls and questioning once again, the early voting projections made by the media. Although the polls always claim a considerable margin of error in predicting election outcomes, still it seems both major parties were caught by surprise by the election results. Since we are talking about lessons learned, with tongue-in-check, one might think the proverbial “Don’t count your chickens until they are hatched,” might be apropos.
Last week I boarded the Pentagon Station Metro at 6:30 AM and found myself seated by a man intently reading a novel. Not wanting to appear intrusive, I glanced at the title of the book he was reading in the train window’s reflection — it was “La Peste” by Albert Camus and he was reading it in French. When I stole a real glance in his direction, I noticed the novel was sitting inside a well worn English-French dictionary. From time to time, he stopped reading to look up a word and then continue reading.
When I arrived home I pulled out my own copy of “La Peste” and leafed through it, glancing through the underlined passages and margin notes I had written. I admired my fellow traveler’s tenacity in wanting to understand precisely what Camus meant in the original French since I myself had thought how important that is when reading Camus in order to fully appreciate his genius.
Albert Camus first became known during World War II when he wrote for the underground French Resistance newspaper during the Nazi occupation of France. As part of La Résistance he risked his life for the sake of liberté, équilité and fraternité. Many others involved in the newspaper lost their lives. La Peste is an allegory in which Camus uses the story of a plague-stricken city in Algeria to describe the destructive nature of tyrannical political ideologies such as Nazism and Fascism. It truly is a story for all times, explaining clearly and meaningfully what the world needed to know.
But back to my fellow traveler for a moment. He caused me to think about a few things that morning, in terms of how we communicate to our donors:
Four years ago, I was in Grand Central Station in New York City when “ImprovEverywhere” got 150 people to freeze in place at exactly the same moment. Some stood frozen in mid-step. One man was in the middle of picking up papers he had dropped. Some were eating or drinking. Another was tying his shoe. One couple was kissing. Suddenly, everyone was pulling out their cell phones, taking pictures and videos of what was happening. Within minutes everyone in New York City and the world knew what was happening at Grand Central Station. They held their positions for five minutes and then at exactly the same time, unfroze and just moved along in the crowd normally, causing spontaneous applause in the station.
Two years ago, 17 million videos were shared online of people dumping ice water on each other in the ALS Association’s incredibly successful “Ice Bucket Challenge.” People across the country challenged each other via social media to participate. Although the idea was to either make a donation to ALSA or have ice water dumped on you, most people did both and $115 million was raised to fight this terrible and often forgotten disease. Recently, the ALSA reported that they have identified the gene that causes the disease; the Ice Bucket Challenge gave the scientists the funding they needed to find that gene. This is the third discovery of its kind ALS researchers have made, using the money raised from the Ice Bucket Challenge.
A few weeks ago, I was riding the Metro Rail in Washington, DC, and a man got on the train holding a sign, politely, in front of his fellow riders stating that he was homeless and hungry. The man was white, late 20’s or early 30s, and although somewhat poorly dressed, he appeared clean and groomed. He never spoke. When he stood before me I put my eyes down, trying to think if I had a dollar in my wallet to give him.
On the train there were very professionally dressed men and women, carrying Kenneth Cole messenger bags, Nautica backpacks, and Coach purses. None of us immediately acknowledged the man with the sign or gave him anything.
Facing me, across from the entrance doors to the train was an African-American man dressed more simply than some of the other passengers in what I would call business casual attire. Also facing me, but on the opposite side of the train, was a man who appeared to be originally from the Middle East. Both of these two looked up at the man with the sign and willingly reached for their wallets to gave him cash. As the man seeking help exited the train,