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We Each Benefit From Living United in GivingApril 30, 2012
Frank Daniels III: We each benefit from living united in giving
I’m not sure about trickle-down economics — personally I think we’d all rather be close to the spigot, versus waiting for the run-off — but I am a believer in the trickling impact of community leadership and investment. And Nashville has benefited greatly from the vision laid out by Dr. Thomas Frist Jr. in 1981.
In the late 19th century, communities began looking for ways to extend charity beyond the very important work being done by individual churches and religious groups. Church leaders wanted to band together and make their work more effective. This idea, originally developed in 1887 in Denver and called the Charity Organization Society, blossomed until the various and numerous “community chest” groups came under the umbrella of The United Way of America. And it, therefore, celebrates its 125th anniversary this year.
The original purpose of community-chest organizations was to help raise more funds for charity. The role expanded as businesses took a more active interest in them and advocated ways to help groups manage more effectively, find professional board members, and rationalize the delivery of services to match the needs of their communities.
By the 1960s, business leaders across the country were engaged in pushing the United Fund concept. Charitable giving became embedded in corporate America.
In 1981, Dr. Frist suggested the next step of that leadership.
At his behest, Frist and 27 other leaders in Middle Tennessee forged a pact to commit at least $10,000 a year to the United Way of Metropolitan Nashville (UWMN) to help their fellow citizens. These benefactors would be members of the Alexis de Tocqueville Society of the UWMN, named in celebration of the compassion and generosity among Americans that French historian Alexis de Tocqueville observed during his 18th-century visits to the United States.
Dr. Frist’s innovative idea revved up the commitment to human-need charitable giving in the Nashville area. He persuaded other cities to join; in 1984, 355 people gave $4 million. Now, more than 500 communities have de Tocqueville societies, and in 2011, 25,725 families made gifts worth more than $514 million.
In recognition of his seminal idea, Dr. Frist will be awarded the inaugural United Way Lifetime Achievement Award from United Way Worldwide at the Community Leaders Conference at Gaylord Opryland on Wednesday.
The innovation and commitment that Frist pushed in 1981 seems to be an inspiration for the UWMN. They have moved well past the traditional role of acting as an efficient money manager and accountability board for local service providers. Now, they focus on: “What is all this investment doing to reduce the problems in our community?”
“We want to focus on outcome-based investment,” said Eric Dewey, president and CEO of UWMN. “How can we as an organization help solve the problems we face? How can we use the nonprofit network to make our community better?”
As Chairman Margaret Dolan said, “We should be the catalyst that brings people together to solve hard problems, and once solved, we move on to the next.”
Dolan’s day job is vice president of community relations for Ingram Industries, and she brings a no-nonsense approach to attacking the ills that beset our community in education, health and financial stability.
“The mission of United Way is not to get people to give money,” she said. “It is to get results.” She points to the 2-1-1 program where, with UWMN leadership, the community can find quick access to help secure financial stability; to the Bank on Music City program, where UWMN supports Mayor Karl Dean’s initiative to served the under- and un-banked population in Nashville; and to the Read to Succeed program that aims to have every child reading at grade level when they reach third grade.
Leadership benefits us all.