Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Johnny Cougar

Whether you know him as Johnny Cougar (my personal fav), John Cougar Mellencamp, or John Mellencamp, he had it right about small towns.

Well, I was born in a small town. 
And I live in a small town.
Probably die in a small town.
Oh, those small communities.

I think most Grant Countians can relate.  There is definitely something special about a small town.  For example, just last week I had lunch with a friend from elementary school who collected lunch trays with me in the cafeteria in 2nd grade.  And, I also caught up with some friends at a place I’ve frequented more times than I can count on two hands…the funeral home.

A visit to the funeral home in a small town is almost like a class reunion.   The place is familiar to everyone with lots of pictures depicting the years, chatter recalling happy memories, and friends.  Always lots of friends.  

Death is a part of life, it’s true.  But when your community is small, the impact of any one person is great.  And much to my surprise, in spite of all the really amazing work we get to do at the Community Foundation, we actually have to deal with death much more than anyone might guess.  At a recent CEO Retreat I attended, a seasoned Executive Director shared how she never realized how emotional the job would be.  It’s just not something they can teach you.  Leadership, yes.  Grantmaking, yes.  Asset Development, yes.  Death, no.   As you can imagine, it’s not uncommon for families to set up funds in memory of loved ones that have passed away recently.  Many more make donations in memory of someone in lieu of flowers.  And some even plan ahead and place the Foundation in their will so they can leave an eternal legacy of goodness. 

So, when I ran across an article recently entitled, Always Go to the Funeral by Dierdre Sullivan, I had to take a moment to read it.  She writes of her dad’s simple philosophy, “get in your car and go to the calling hours or the funeral”.   But the lesson Sullivan learned was more complex than that.  She equates going to the funeral with always doing the right thing, even when she doesn’t feel like it.

Wow, that’s worth remembering!  Who has ever felt like going to a funeral?  But, we do it.  Because it’s the right thing to do.  Sometimes a small act of kindness on our part is uber meaningful to the recipient.  And, that’s worth pondering.  As Sullivan so wisely stated, these aren’t decisions about good versus evil.  These are decisions about doing good versus doing nothing.   And, BOOM, there it is.

That’s how we leave our family, our neighborhood, our school, our community, our city, our county, our country, our world better than we found it.  Doing good versus doing nothing.

The Community Foundation is a great place to begin.  Start a fund.  Support a cause.  Honor someone you love with a donation in their name.  After all, we are all in charge or our own dash.   As poet Linda Ellis reminds us, the dash, that little line between your date of birth and date of death is ours to invest for the good of others.  It might be a 50-yard dash.  It might be a 100-yard dash.  That we don’t know.  But, what we do know is, our dash can make a big difference in a small town.  Even Johnny Cougar knew that.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

At 29

I never thought this would come out of my mouth, but I think I may be a cougar.  Yes, I love a 29 year old.  Who wouldn’t?  Isn’t everyone looking for the perfect combination of wealth and generosity?  An equal amount of empathy and sympathy?  A leader willing to follow and a follower willing to lead?  It’s true, I love the Community Foundation. 

This month the Community Foundation of Grant County celebrates our 29th birthday.  I remember my own 29th.  Married with a baby.  Jet-setting every week with a really cool job.  Staying up late, yet still getting everything done.  Lots of responsibilities and plenty of energy to take care of them all.  You remember 29.  The best of our life was ahead of us and we were finally mature enough to fully appreciate how precious that fact really was. 

At 29, that’s where we are today.  No longer in the infancy stage of non-profithood.  And just mature enough in our growth that that Foundation has a good, well, foundation.  From a time when the goal of having a $5 million endowment for Grant County seemed all but impossible to today where a $20 million endowment is on the horizon. 

At 29, we celebrate our sustainability.  For the first year in our existence, we can proudly state that your Community Foundation is 100% sustainable.  That’s big!  Huge!  It means that we no longer need to fundraise for our own day-to-day operations.  Instead, generous donations to our operating endowment throughout the years now produce enough income to keep us in running efficiently and effectively.  This means that at the very least we’ll be able to continue to provide the same services that we are providing today…forever.  That’s 29.

At 29, we know a million dollars weighs about one metric ton, thus the phrase ‘a ton of money’.   So, we can safely tell the world that we’ve officially given over 12 tons of grant money across the Grant County community.  $12,000,000.  That’s 12 as in a dozen and ‘M’ as in multiple millions!  This is what a hearty endowment that follows the give, grow, grant model can do…right here in our little hometown.  Donations big and small, from coins contributed by kids to estates left as legacies, made this possible.  A wise board with conservative investment strategies grew those funds to nearly $20 million.  And by never spending the original donation and only a percentage of the earnings, we’ve been able raise that $20 million and still give back $12 million in grants.  It makes me love math.  That’s 29. 

At 29, we can safety say that some of our local college graduates proudly display their diplomas with some thanks to the Community Foundation.  Books and classes are expensive.  But, not as costly as a community with low educational attainment rates.  We understand that educational attainment and economic development have a corollary relationship.  That’s why we’ve made an investment this year of over $420,000 in scholarships for Grant County lifelong learners of all ages.  And, this week those dollars are being put to work as the fall semester is in full swing across Indiana campuses.  I can just feel the quality of life improving as I type.  That’s 29.

At 29 we’ve got a lot going for us.  That’s exactly why you’ll notice some things won’t change one bit.  We’ll still be the hub of giving in Grant County and still work diligently to invest our grants and scholarships with the most worthy candidates.  But, there’s one gift that 29 gives you.  The wisdom to know that there’s a lot more to know.   That’s where we are at 29.

So, over the course of our 29th year, you’ll see us perfecting our craft.  Our mission will morph from simply promoting community to supporting sustainable impact.  Conventional assumptions of non-profit growth will transform.   Our focus will be based on what you, our donors/readers, value most.  The lens of innovation will help us to clearly deliver what we promise. 
mini pillow rings

But, like Thomas Edison (and now Ashton Kutcher) said, opportunity looks like work.  And if there’s one thing our team’s not afraid of, it’s a little hard work.  In fact, we’re even considering the purchase of some mini pillow rings to cushion our chins as we contemplate our genius.  Or maybe buying some of that new spray caffeine.  Because at 29, we know the best is yet to come.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

All Kinds of Kinds

In loving memory of former Community Foundation Board 
Member  and President, Ross Hoffman.  Servant Leader,
 difference-maker, corny joke teller, and friend.
So, why do gorillas have large nostrils?  Because they have large fingers.  Ba-da-bah!  That was the joke that Ross Hoffman, former Community Foundation Board Member and President, told over and over for the last ten years.  He was quirky like that.  Laughed at his own jokes.  Even the ones he told countless times for years.  He always had a welcoming smile on his face; but, typically one that would make you wonder what big idea was churning in his brain at that very minute.  He was always envisioning, inventing, implementing.  Always developing, creating, difference-making.  Ross was a verb.  A verb dressed up as a middle-aged man.   

I worked with Ross on countless community projects and a small handful of world-changing endeavors at College Wesleyan Church.  If a project had The Big Mo (momentum), you’d likely find him smack dab in the middle of it.  It was one evening after a long day’s work that several people gathered at a meeting to do some of that verbing.  To be honest, I can’t even recall exactly what meeting it was…there were so many.  Foundation meetings.  Church meetings.  Change the universe meetings.  But, this I do remember.  After the meeting, several pods of people stayed after brainstorming other ideas, creating synergy, and listing who else should be involved to make the impact even bigger than even our minds could comprehend.  It was moments like that where you could see that memorable smile appear on his face and in his eyes, when he said, “You know how I know when something is really going to work?  How I know when something huge is about to happen?  It’s when people stay after the meeting talking about it longer than the actual meeting.”  Brilliant.  And true. 

Ross knew that ideas and money and time were nothing without people using them to help others.  Investing them wisely.  And he knew that lots of people with ideas, didn’t have money.  Or people with money, didn’t have time.  Or people with time, didn’t have money or ideas.  He really understood, as anyone involved in something truly bigger than themselves does, that it takes all kinds of kinds.  A royal flush always beats two of a kind.  But, not without a little verbing.

At his funeral, they played a video of Ross that we had viewed at College Church some time ago.  In his own words, he reflected on a trip he took to Africa where he first felt like he was really involved in making a difference. Where he first saw his actions directly making life better for others.  He was part of a jubilant African celebration rejoicing in the completion of a new well that Ross had helped make a reality.  The joy he witnessed that day, the pure delight he saw on their faces and in their eyes was all he needed to realize that (a) he could make a difference and (b) it was his responsibility to make a difference. 

Ross isn’t here to do the heavy lifting for us anymore.  But he left us with a charge…to know that we can impact our community (and the world) positively, and to actively take that responsibility seriously.  Nine years of dedicated service on the Community Foundation board shows that Ross knew that giving through the Foundation was a great way to start locally. 

I don’t know about you, but the example Ross set has inspired me.  Inspired me to be a better person.  And definitely inspired me to be a better comedian.  ;)

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Internally Grateful

I love that line in Jerry McGuire where Ray randomly states, “Did you know that the human head weighs 8 pounds?  Well, I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know about 3 ½ pounds of that weight would consist of your brain.  Or so John Silva, the host of the new NatGeo show Brain Games, claims.  If you have a social life you may have missed the show.  Friday night at 9:00 isn’t the best of time slots.  But, you should try to catch it On Demand if you can.  The games and experiments featured will seriously blow your mind.  I know it sounds all brain researchy, but trust me, it’s profoundly entertaining.

Speaking of brain research, I happen to love it.  Many moons ago I used to teach other teachers about brain-based learning.  It’s fascinating how the brain works.  Isn’t it intriguing that we all know there’s a thin strip of paper hanging out of the top of a Hershey Kiss yet most of us don’t know it’s called a niggly wiggly?  How is it that we’ve gone our entire lives and not asked what the name of that thing was?  It’s probably for the same reason that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups have been around for 85 years and no one has figured out how to get that little smudge of “Reese’s Residue” off the middle of the wrapper?

I’m not trying to pick on the Hershey Company here.  These are just things I think about.  (There’s no doubt my brain is looking at quirky in the rear view mirror.)  Kisses wouldn’t be the same without the niggly wiggle.  And don’t even think about divorcing the peanut butter from the chocolate.  Think about the children!  There truly is something to be said for putting classic combinations together.  Lucy and Ethel.  Pepperoni and cheese.  Socks and sandals…okay maybe not socks and sandals!  But truly one of the best combinations to date would have to be Community Foundations and interns. 

This past weekend I attended the wedding of one of our former Foundation interns.  It was an elegant wedding with a beautiful bride and a handsome (and hilarious) groom.  It’s hard to believe that Katie has already graduated from college, married the man of her dreams, and secured a job with a real paycheck and benefits.  Alas, that’s what interns do.  Students go off to college, choose a major, and then some of them get to practice their real-world skills right here at the Community Foundation before they venture off into the big, scary world.  All of this thanks to a ‘Community Foundations Intern Program’ grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc. which is administered by the Indiana Grantmakers Alliance. 

So, today’s blog is a thank you note to both Lilly Endowment, Inc. and Indiana Grantmaker’s Alliance.  It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see that we are internally grateful.  (See what I did there? J) Thanks!

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

P BJ 2.0

Let’s just say it was over 20 years ago, at just about this time of the year, that I rented the smallest U-Haul known to man…the only one my little Ford Escort could tow…and ventured off to the unknown land of Texas.  Well, unknown to me anyway as I had no family and only knew one friend from college there.  But, hey, I wanted to pursue my dream of teaching at one of the best school districts in the United States- Plano Independent School District.  This 21 year-old traveler quickly learned a few things about Texas:  (1) You really should have a car with air conditioning, (2) you can buy anything in the shape of Texas…literally anything, and (3) nearly every radio station played country music.

The purchase of my first brand new car solved my air conditioning problem and for some reason Texas-shaped tortilla chips really did taste better; I can’t explain it.  But, as a Midwest twenty-something, growing up with classic rock-and-roll, I just could not believe there were actually entire radio stations dedicated to twangy, Wrangler-wearin’, pick-up truck havin’, cowboys.  I mean, people actually had country stations programmed into their car radios. Seriously.  That’s when this Midwestern girl went on a scavenger hunt for some real music and found it on Kiss FM 106.1 in Dallas/Ft. Worth.  They not only played hit music, but they had Kidd Kraddick in the Morning.   Kidd drove to work with me each day in the chaos of Dallas traffic.  He became a constant in my life at a time when I was rather lonely in the Lone Star State.  He’d make me laugh in an empty car and laugh again when I thought about it later that day.  And, my friends, if laughter is good medicine, he was Dr. Kraddick.  Although I never met him in person, Kidd Kraddick felt like a friend.  Which I guess explains why I was so genuinely sad to learn on Saturday night that he had passed away at the young age of 53. 

When I heard that he was at a golf outing raising money for his Kidd’s Kids non-profit organization, it didn’t surprise me.  Kidd truly had a heart the size of Texas and a passion for chronically ill and physically challenged children to go with it.  His foundation raised enough money from his many radio listeners, corporate sponsors, and annual fundraisers to send up to 50 kids and their families to enjoy every child’s rite of passage…Walt Disney World.  Although impossible, it made me think that Leonardo da Vinci must have had Kidd in mind when he said, “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to let things happen to me when I know I can go out and happen to things!  Yes, Kraddick had enough celebrity that he could start his own Foundation and impact hundreds of lives each year.  But, his listeners simply made donations.  And, his corporate partners like the Orlando Magic and Southwest Airlines did a bit more because their capacity for giving was more robust.  But, true generosity typically involves variety like that. 

It reminds me of the new PBJ 2.0.  Have you heard of it?  It’s so awesome!  One slice of bread holds a horizontal trio of jelly, honey, and marshmallow cream.  The other slice contains a vertical trinity of crunchy peanut butter, Nutella, and creamy peanut butter.  When you close it you get 9 different flavor combinations!  Nine!  Something for everyone.

Generosity is just like that.  There really is something for everyone.  Find what you’re passionate about and give.  Big, small.  Weekly, annually.  Time, money.  Publicly, privately.  To an established fund at the Foundation, to a fund that you start on your own.

The key is to make it personal.  That’s what Kidd Kraddick did.  And, I like to think that he’s up in heaven looking down on us today and wishing we’d all continue his example of generosity…and hopeful that we’d cut that PBJ 2.0 in the shape of Texas…as it should be.

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