Their beliefs differ, as do their levels of giving and how they choose to give.
On the spectrum of philanthropy, some gifts are modest. Others are major.
Yet, no gift is too small. This is a point made regularly by United Way’s leaders who recognize the work of their organization frequently relies on two basics: volunteers who give their time and donors who give from their paychecks. In many cases, community-minded supporters give both.
We were reminded of these truths in the recent annual banquet of United Way, a festive gathering that brought together hundreds of followers in a setting that has become iconic to United Way support; that is, the beautiful Professional Development Center at Life Care Centers of America.
In Wednesday’s edition of this newspaper, we spoke to the caliber of volunteerism and the consistency of giving that so often epitomize the recipient of United Way’s annual William F. Johnson Sr. Community Service Award. That distinction for 2013 went to Dr. Rodney Fitzgerald, a longtime United Way advocate who served as campaign co-chair for the most recent fundraising drive.
But what about the reasons that people give to such an impactful organization like United Way, whether their donations are gifts of time or money? Why is it important to them? And what is the lure that keeps them coming back to help again and again?
These questions were answered in three knowing comments, and sets of comments, that were made or alluded to during the recent United Way celebration.
First, let us refer to a quote inscribed on the plaque of appreciation presented by United Way President and CEO Matt Ryerson to Cleveland civic leader Art Rhodes who had stepped in to accept the nonprofit’s board chairman role in midyear, and who led another successful United Way campaign with drive co-chairs Don Lorton and Fitzgerald.
The stirring quote is attributed to a familiar name, face and voice, children’s television host “Mr. Rogers.” The inspiring thought reads, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It is easy to say it is not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem. Then there are those who see the need, and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
Second, let us borrow from the words of Ryerson himself. In speaking to a banquet hall packed with everyday heroes, the United Way leader stressed, “It is because of you we are able to accomplish all we accomplish. It is because of you that we do the things we do.” And later, he said of the significance of United Way’s team approach, “It is important because it has an impact. It does great things in the community. It shifts the culture in how we serve and who we serve.”
Third, incoming United Way board chair Tanya Mazzolini urged her listeners to reflect on their childhood and to remember the superpowers they dreamed of having as kids. Those ambitions were born of the same desire to make a difference in the lives of others, just as they are as adults today: “... I continue to be captivated by the idea that anyone can make a difference; that anyone can change someone’s life.”
She drove the inspiring point home by adding, “You are a hero to someone and you do have a power: to give, to advocate and to empower. The real question is how will you use your superpower?”
In all three instances — the analogies by Mr. Rogers, Ryerson and Mazzolini — “hero” served as a shared theme, either directly or indirectly.
Such a title is fitting because in the hearts of those whose lives are changed, it is the outreach of others that has made it possible. They are the difference makers. Their actions are heroic, yet we know of none who would accept the label of hero.
In closing, Mazzolini encouraged her United Way supporters in the coming year “... to jump in with both feet, because we need each other.”
It’s a simple formula. People need heroes. Heroes need a cause. Most communities have both.
Cleveland is one such community.