Generosity starts with you

I was reminded recently of the wide spectrum of ability we have to help one another. As President and CEO of the Quad Cities Community Foundation, I have a front row seat to the most incredible and generous charitable acts, overseeing a staff that works alongside donors who bequeath thousands, sometimes even millions of dollars, to our region.

I have watched it time and time again. These funds transform lives, challenge the status quo, and make our community better. They open new wings of hospitals, get a homeless shelter or food pantry back on its feet, and help fund college careers.

But not all giving has to be big in dollars and cents. There are the small tokens of generosity, when put in the right perspective, that are just as moving and life changing to people who receive the gifts. Please allow me to offer an example.

This year I had the opportunity to join the Leading Ladies Giving Circle, a small group of women with a fund at the Community Foundation who have come together to lend a hand—and resources—to meaningful projects in our region.

One of our projects this year was to help The Center’s homeless outreach team in Davenport as they provide laundry services to the homeless. We were able to help them purchase a new washing machine, several pairs of winter boots, and collect the thousands of quarters it takes for our community’s homeless to spend $2.50 for each load of laundry in a laundry mat.

While written checks were appreciated, we encouraged each other and the community to literally collect quarters for the cause—at their house, at their workplace, in their car. The analogy was simple: Sometimes all it takes is a roll of quarters to make a real difference in someone’s life. That someone might have only needed a clean set of clothes for a job interview, or to simply feel clean and dignified.

Even when we can only give a little, it can mean a lot. Communities are not transformed overnight; it oftentimes takes a collective effort of many people doing many small things to make positive, lasting change.

As we come together in the Quad Cities region to celebrate National Philanthropy Day on November 18, I am reminded that philanthropy isn’t about the money. It has, and always will be, about people.

It is about people like W.D. Petersen, who had the foresight more than 85 years ago to set up a legacy fund that would help low-income children. It is about the passionate volunteers at The Center in Davenport who continually and tirelessly work to help the homeless on our streets eat, wash their clothes, and find jobs.

It is about people like Barbara Melbourne here at the Community Foundation, who is being recognized this month with the 2015 Outstanding Planned Giving Professional Award, a nod to the more than 30 years she has devoted to helping donors give generously and purposefully.

Yes, there is power in the collective effort of people in a community coming together to seize an opportunity or meet a need.

While National Philanthropy Day first became recognized by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, it is truly a grassroots movement, with people on the ground celebrating the spirit of giving.

Its message is one we should echo. Generosity—whether it is through a corporate sponsorship, large legacy gift through a foundation, or a small, free gesture of kindness to a person you meet on the street—starts with you.