"Mommy, what do you do at work?" A common, simple question for most parents. I am simultaneously thrilled and horrified by it. I love what I do. When actors talk about how fortunate they are to get paid to act, I think, "You poor misguided Academy Award winner, if only you knew the joy and fulfillment of working at a community foundation!" I'm serious. Yet when my kids ask me about my job, I am crestfallen. Words like community, improvement and collaboration start to form in my mouth as their young minds begin to drift. I choke back this familiar lexicon for fear of alienating my children before the universally accepted growth and development phase for such alienation: the teen years.
Nov. 12 marks the beginning of National Community Foundation Week, including National Philanthropy Day on Nov. 14. This is a time for celebration, and calls for an explanation of our work.
For young children, life consists mostly of trying to get what they want. The outcome is black or white: you get it or you don't. Community foundations live in the vast grey area in between. As we grow older, we also want things for others: we want our family and friends to be healthy and happy, and we want the same for our community. Our community foundation strives to know that wish list and, equally important, to understand what makes our community tick. We work to understand all the moving parts, the propulsion, the players, the possibilities, the risks and the potential paths forward.
We believe that giving here matters. Here in Whatcom County and here at the Community Foundation. We have the usual ingredients: donors, nonprofits, board and staff, and the community we serve. People like you and me make gifts to the Community Foundation, which in turn makes grants to many capable, creative and dedicated nonprofit organizations. That's just the tip of the iceberg.
There are other wonderful funders in Whatcom County. We are grateful to call them trusted, valued partners. We work together regularly to wrestle the same vexing challenges, ensuring all the kids in our community are ready for kindergarten, a thriving local economy and the quality of life we treasure. The list is long. We do not claim ownership of this territory. Our niche is that we bring our modest resources to bear on the whole community: housing, education, arts and culture, health, the economy, environment and more. It's all important. And we do it one donor at a time.
I've heard a number of people from other countries comment on the unique character of American philanthropy. "Someone you never met can change your life," they say. What's behind that observation is the fact that somewhere, even before a check is written, someone (actually many someones) is thinking about those people that they've never met. Donors, educators, planners, health professionals, elected officials, nonprofit staff and other community members, all seeking ways to make life here better for everyone. It takes more than sound thinking. It takes people to bring ideas, perspectives, experience and skills together. It is the messy work of community building. It is vital.
Important work and, though it is serious, it can also be fun. Our donors -- many of you -- join us because you appreciate living here. In a word, you are grateful. We have the profound honor of helping to turn that gratitude into philanthropy that is meaningful for you and for all of us.
So, what can I tell my kids about my day job? I help people write one of their favorite chapters in life.
This Thursday, I and more than 75 of your neighbors will be heralding Phillips 66 and Mike Hammes and RAM Construction at the Philanthropy Day Awards. They are being recognized as outstanding philanthropic businesses in the corporate and small business categories respectively. They know that giving here matters and they do something about it. Congratulations to them and to everyone in Whatcom County. Here's to the strangers, the partners and the friends.
Happy Community Foundation Week, Whatcom County. Thank you for putting the "community" in your community foundation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mauri Ingram is president and chief executive officer of Whatcom Community Foundation. For information about the organization go to online to whatcomcf.org.