Perspectives on Philanthropy
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
Back in September, I had the unique opportunity to participate in two fundraising events in two cities on the same day. On the morning of September 21, I participated in the Cincinnati Congenital Heart Walk. In my role as an ACHA Ambassador, I staffed the mission table, talked with attendees about ACHA, and spoke during the opening remarks. I shared my personal story as an adult with a CHD and talked about the work that ACHA does for the CHD community.
During the post-walk festivities, a young couple approached me and asked if I would take a photo with their 10-month-old son, who also has tetralogy of Fallot. It was truly a pleasure and an honor to be asked. I was pleased to learn that this boy’s surgery—done months earlier—had gone very well and that his outlook was positive. Moments after that brief conversation, another mom who was standing nearby approached me with palpable enthusiasm and excitement. She commented on how sweet that gesture was and how I instantly became an inspiration for that young couple—a reminder that their little guy has a real chance of growing up and being able to live a normal life.
My official role at the walk was to represent ACHA. What I was not consciously thinking about was the very personal impact that my presence and a few simple words could mean to those in attendance. I don’t normally think of myself as an inspiration for others. Rather, I do this work because I enjoy it and because it is important to me personally. But the young mom who watched my interaction with that young couple reminded me that—with that single photograph of me holding their little boy—that family would always have the memory of that moment and hope for their son’s long-term prospects.
When the walk was over, I headed straight to the airport for my return trip to Chicago. I was, after all, scheduled to work the black tie gala for my day job that evening. Upon landing at O’Hare, I headed directly to my office, where my tuxedo was waiting for me. As our biggest fundraising event of the year—with more than 600 guests in attendance—this was an all-development-hands on deck ordeal. After a quick costume change, I arrived at the hotel, where the red carpet had been unrolled and was awaiting our guests. The ballroom was exquisite, the evening gowns stunning, and the bars wide open. At the end of the night, guests and staff alike were thoroughly pleased! By just about any measure, it was an elegant, enjoyable evening and a very successful fundraiser.
As I think back on that day, I can’t help but be struck by the polarity of these two events, both of which fall under the broad term of philanthropy. At the most basic level, these two events had the same goal: Raise money for a charitable organization. But the vast differences between the two events clearly reflected the great differences between these organizations.
Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy getting dressed up for an event every now and then. And there is certainly something glamorous about attending a "see and be seen" type of event like this was. But it was particularly interesting for me to experience these two very different worlds on the same day. I started my Saturday under an overcast sky in a Cincinnati park to help raise money for congenital heart disease. I ended the day in an elegant ballroom in a downtown Chicago hotel wearing a tuxedo and helping to raise money for a world-renowned cultural organization.
Anyone familiar with the fundraising industry already knows that approaches to philanthropy are as diverse as the organizations seeking contributions. But as I had this unique opportunity to experience these two scenarios in such a short amount of time, I was reminded of the diversity within my chosen profession. I was pleased to learn that both events were successful and exceeded their fundraising expectations. And while I enjoyed both of them, there is still no question in my mind as to where my heart truly lies.
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