Monday, March 16, 2009

How Community Shapes Giving

By John Oberwetter

People find pleasure and comfort in being part of a community; perhaps a community is a helpful concept to encourage giving.

In November 2008, more than 50 people from the Smithtown, NY, Class of 1963 went to Costa Rica for their 45th reunion. The week was paid for by a generous classmate who lives on a large sugar cane ranch on the Pacific side of the country. Towards the end of the week, a small group of us fell into conversation about the future, the environment, and charitable giving. One fellow reminded us that potable water will increasingly be a concern over much of the globe in the future. He explained that he had funded a few wells for villages in Thailand. The group responded immediately, conceiving an idea for repaying our benefactor, in a way, by creating a nonprofit organization that would fund well-drilling projects in Africa.

Upon our return, some of us began to work on a mission statement and other to research creating nonprofit organizations that deal with well-drilling. It quickly became apparent that reinventing the wheel would be costly and even duplicate services already offered by any number of thoughtfully conceived nonprofit organizations. The research delved into issues of overhead, costs of wells, and organization; field trips also took place in New York City to visit several offices and speak with volunteers. We settled on www.charitywater.org, established a page for donations in the name of the Class of '63, and sent a cover letter and mission statement via snail mail to all known members of the class.

Using an existing nonprofit still seems to be a sound idea and the sense of community that has been established through this group effort has been an added but significant benefit. The total raised thus far puts us close to funding our first well. This venture contains within it the possibility of changing the patterns of giving amongst the earliest crop of baby boomers from 1945.

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