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Reflections on philanthropy

Fri. Oct 25, 2019

Twenty-two years ago, I was hired to lead an organization created by Virginia Brazeau and the R.S. Brazeau Family Foundation – South Wood County Community Foundation – known today as Incourage.  Virginia’s vision of an organization designed to meet the changing needs of the community and philanthropy that was by the people, for the people was intriguing to me.

As I close out my final days at Incourage and reflect on what I have experienced and learned, I am reminded of a 2014 talk by Ambassador James Joseph.  His comments were inspiring, thought provoking, and genuine.  I remember one quote in particular and in fact, I have carried it with me for the past five years.  It ends most every presentation I have given in recent years, inspires me, and challenges me.  It embodies what I have come to learn and understand as the true meaning of philanthropy.  He said,

When neighbors help neighbors, and even when strangers help strangers, both those who help and those who are helped are transformed. When that which was their problem becomes our problem, there is a new connectedness and new forms of community are possible.

Let’s think about this for a minute.  “When that which was their problem becomes our problem”…not a problem we have to fund or fix; but rather a problem that is shared, a problem that demands a solution crafted through a common understanding of the issues and of what is at stake, a problem that will only be eliminated when we recognize that our personal future is intertwined in the future of others.

These ideas have important implications for the future of philanthropy.  Philanthropy must be about more than money.  It is not a transaction or transfer of wealth from the haves to the have nots.  It is not about doing to or for.  Rather, philanthropy is about doing with, doing together, and doing alongside.  At its core, philanthropy is about love and relationship; and community philanthropy is about love of each other and this place.

Together, over the past 22 years, we have done some remarkable things in this community.  We inspired innovation, challenged the status quo, and collectively discovered new ways forward in the face of significant economic disruption.  These experiences have helped us grow in our understanding of community, our appreciation for diverse viewpoints and perspectives, our sensitivity to implicit bias, and our understanding of love and kindness.   I have had the privilege to participate in and witness the power of building trusting relationships based in love for each other and our community.

I am hopeful that these experiences have shaped how we think about the future, particularly because the issues that face communities – including ours – are challenging, contentious, and dare I say, divisive.  It is only when we fully embrace problems such as income inequality, poverty, food insecurity, and environmental degradation as collective problems, problems that belong to us all, that we will make headway in creating a community that works well for all.

I continue to be hopeful and inspired by a new generation of people in our community – and our nation – who expect to be part of the solution to challenge and to capitalize on opportunities.  People who are committed to doing with, and who recognize philanthropy as an expression of love, of value, of faith, and hope in humankind. 

It has been an honor and a privilege to have spent the last 22 years stewarding Virginia Brazeau’s vision.  I am a better person for having had this experience and leave this position with gratitude and deep appreciation to all who have shared the journey.



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  • About Incourage

    Established in rural Wisconsin in 1994 to serve the changing needs of the south Wood County area, Incourage has become a nationally-recognized leader in place-based philanthropy and community development. Guided by values of equity, opportunity, and shared stewardship, Incourage envisions a community that works well for all people. One physical manifestation of this vision is the redevelopment of the Tribune building, which demonstrates Incourage’s user-centered approach to growing a strong and inclusive local economy.