Time Passages- Celebrating and Chronicling Life’s Great Events

I have always considered myself to be pretty comfortable handling the passage of time. I think birthdays are far preferable to the alternative plus I get presents. (Okay, so I have been viciously shredding my AARP invitations – don’t I have a few years before I can/want to take advantage of their benefits?) Didn’t I chuckle at the fact that my (much older) sister turned 60 this year? And, tears only pooled in my eyes last week when I marked the 26thanniversary of my first job in philanthropy (they never actually fell).

I was only mildly traumatized this spring when my younger sister’s youngest son graduated from college and went off to get a real job. And, despite my gut-wrenching reaction to seeing my far-too-young nephew “graduate” from elementary school, I resisted the overwhelming urge to jump on the chair, declare he was still a baby, and insist he not be allowed to move on to the all-too-adult hallways of secondary school.

As I said, I handle life’s passages pretty well.

So imagine my surprise when, during a casual conversation recently, I realized that next year the National Center for Family Philanthropy will celebrate its tenth anniversary! Like a punch in the stomach, I lost my breath at the mind-numbing thought. It couldn’t be true. Our work is still so urgent, so fresh. The ideas we get from donors and their families are so creative and so generative, it feels as if we are ever-reborn.

How could we possibly be approaching organizational middle age? (Note: Upon verbally expressing such a speculation, a friend helpfully reminded me that, for a nonprofit, ten years was more the equivalent of advanced middle age.)

Concluding there was more cause for joy than for blood-draining shock, I determined to take the same approach to this anniversary that I take to other benchmarks in the passing of time: I am going to celebrate life’s events with those I care about rather than lament how much more frequently I visit my hair colorist! Now this is where you all come in.

Share Your Stories

Any recognition of ten years of sheer privilege serving the field of family philanthropy has to include a celebration of the commitment, contributions, and challenges of philanthropic donors, their families and their advisors.

We’re beginning our birthday work by collecting your histories and stories.

Many of you have written the stories of your founders, your families, and your family’s philanthropy. Some have been informal projects and resulted in short papers or scrapbooks. Some wanted the stories to be written by family members, infused with personal anecdote, humor, pathos, and photographs. Perhaps you had a family reunion to tell and record the stories. Some of you commissioned historians and professional writers or archivists. You may have published a book or produced a video.

We are collecting them all as part of a National Archive of Family Philanthropy. Please send copies to us – we want everything: papers; DVDs; scrapbooks; books; videos; scripts from your family reunion play! The serious and the sentimental, the candid and the charming, and the instructional and the inspirational – all are part of the marvelous history of the field to which we are all committed.

These stories add passion and energy to the voice of the National Center and to our work. Some will serve as future profiles in family philanthropy in this newsletter. Some may help us develop case stories for future educational material. All will encourage other families to chronicle their own history. Finally, all will help us tell the story of this vibrant sector that is so much a part of our communities and our democracy. (Note: no one’s story will ever be used in any way without express permission.)

In the last couple of years, we have all heard the same horror stories of ill-advised, unethical, even illegal, activity by those in philanthropy. They have been repeated and recycled until you could believe these stories define who we are and what we are accomplishing in our field. They are certainly shaping perceptions.

How many times have you wondered where the “good” stories are? Not the whitewashed, Pollyanna stories of cardboard saints but the complex stories of individuals and families committed to private initiative for the public good. Stories of those committed to and challenged by this pursuit – why are they doing it and how are they trying to contribute to our world? How are they making a positive difference – for the causes, institutions and people they support and for their families? We have worked with hundreds, even thousands, of you and we tell your stories. Now we want to hear how you are telling your stories yourselves. Please send them to me. You are both the reason for and the heart of any National Center celebration.