If the weather stays autumnally beautiful, November is a favorite month of mine. And Thanksgiving is a favorite special day when our families unite and conspicuous consumption is for food only — no gifts!
It is a time to reflect on what we have — and for most of us, it is bountiful. I've been gathering stories of remodelers and how they share their bounty by supporting their communities. I am amazed by the frequency and the diversity. Many remodelers work with an existing charity like Habitat for Humanity; others participate in the volunteer efforts of their association chapter.
Then there are those who think of a creative way to do something that may never have been done before. There's Bill Owens in Powell, Ohio, who moved and rehabbed a historic house. He sold it for a $50,000 profit, which he donated to an organization that focuses on character-building in the community. Then there's Bill Medina of Salina, Kan., who combined his love for cooking and a vacant loft space into dinners that have raised tens of thousands of dollars for local charities. Each of these efforts involved the remodeler's creativity, brainpower, time, effort, and money.
Contributing does not mean you have to make lots of money. Osceola McCarty spent a lifetime washing and ironing other people's clothes. In 1995, when she was 87, she had saved enough money to give $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi to establish a scholarship fund to benefit African American students.
Thomas Cannon, a retired postal clerk has given more than $96,000 in the form of $1,000 checks to individuals in need, although the most he ever earned was $32,000 a year. Many of his gifts go to strangers whose good works he reads about.
There is John Gage, a former Jesuit priest who, in his quest for simplicity, lives on less than $8,000 a year but gives away 6% of that, as well as a lot of time and effort. He sorts contribution requests to help groups eliminate duplication. He initiates personal contact with most of the groups to which he gives in order to ask them what they need in terms of money or support.
Creativity and contribution make wonderful companions. In 1977, Terry Fox, an active Canadian teenager diagnosed with bone cancer at 18 years old had his right leg amputated 6 inches above the knee. While in the hospital, Terry was so overcome by the suffering of other cancer patients, many of them young children, that he decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. He would call his journey the Marathon of Hope.
After 18 months and running more than 3,107 miles to prepare, Terry started his run in St. John's, Newfoundland, on April 12, 1980, with little fanfare. Although his run didn't get much attention in the beginning, enthusiasm soon grew, and the money collected along his route began to mount. He ran 26 miles a day through Canada's Atlantic provinces, Quebec, and Ontario.
On Sept. 1, after 143 days and 3,339 miles, Terry was forced to stop running because cancer had appeared in his lungs. Terry passed away — a national hero — on June 28, 1981, at the age of 22. To date, more than $340 million has been raised worldwide for cancer research in Terry's name through the annual Terry Fox Run, held across Canada and around the world.
If that's what a one-legged, critically ill 22-year-old can do, I guess we have to examine what we have done for our community lately. For so many of us, it's the impulse-driven check written because someone we know has asked for a contribution. But if you want some inspiration and a gentle nudge in the rear end, order Inspired Philanthropy: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Giving Plan, by Tracy Gary and Melissa Kohner. It's a user-friendly workbook to examine your current giving and focus your future giving on a cause you feel truly passionate about. There are lots of ideas on interviewing charities and on leveraging your time and effort so your gift has the highest possible impact. It is an amazingly complete book.
As Winston Churchill noted, “We make a living from what we get. We make a life from what we give.” Happy Thanksgiving. —Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage Inc. in Fulton, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5620; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.remodelersadvantage.com.