The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on October 7, 2010.

 I read an article in the StarTribune last week about foundations and corporations that have started to redirect more of their resources to one specific issue, rather than giving lesser amounts to a greater number of causes. This is good news, certainly, for the issues and conditions that are receiving greater attention and more resources. But it’s disastrous for those that will now be losing out on the funding they would otherwise have received.

The idea, of course, is to focus and concentrate resources on one major issue at a time in order to have a more meaningful, measurable and long-lasting impact on the situation, perhaps even eliminating it entirely – as would be the case with finding a cure or vaccine for a specific illness or disease, or coming up with a treatment or protocol that would address both the problems that bring about a certain condition and the problems that are caused by it. Poverty, obesity, and illiteracy are a few examples, although they’re a lot more complex than any one solution would be able to address.

And that’s the whole point. Whether they affect millions of people or just a handful, whether they are deadly or merely annoying, whether their symptoms or consequences last for a few days or for generations to come, the issues and illnesses facing us today need time and attention, and they need money for research and development, for testing and treatment, for education and for implementation. Deciding who gets what, and how much, is no easy task. Nor is getting the funds to distribute in the first place.

As an individual and a member of society, I want to help, and I’m happy to make donations when and where I can. But I’ve also grown cautious and suspicious over time because of the number and frequency of requests that come in the mail and on the phone, and because of the fraudulent and frivolous use of funds collected by many organizations. Like most people, I just want to know that my donations are being well-managed and well-spent, and that they’re being used to make a positive difference for the people they’re meant to help and for the problems they’re meant to overcome.

The day after I read the newspaper article about focused giving, I saw its power in action when my husband and I sat down to watch the Bears vs. the Giants on Sunday Night Football. The entire NFL is supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month not only with an awareness campaign, but with fundraising efforts all over the country. I found this promising and exciting for a number of reasons. One is that, as a breast cancer survivor, I find it very gratifying that an organization as male-oriented as the NFL is supporting a cause that is so female-oriented in terms of the people who are most directly affected by it. I felt very emotional looking at the human “pink ribbon” on the field before the game started, consisting of breast cancer survivors dressed in pink and holding up an enormous length of pink fabric to form the symbol for breast cancer awareness. And I was both inspired and entertained by all the pink accents and embellishments on the uniforms and equipment of the players, staff, and officials. When that many people rally behind a cause, a lot of money can be raised, and a lot of people can be inspired to help.

But at the same time, my heart and my concern go out to the smaller, less visible organizations and causes, especially knowing that they’ve most likely lost funding due to the effects of the economy, and now due to more focused and concentrated efforts by big foundations to fund major initiatives. So I’m paying more attention to “quieter” causes whose needs are just as great, whose beneficiaries are just as worthy, and whose results can be just as profound. I’ll make more of a point now of donating things like books, backpacks, paper and pencils to schools and churches that provide supplies for children in need. I’ll spend more time putting people I know in touch with each other when one has information and resources that the other can use. And I’ll pay better attention to what’s going on around me so I don’t miss opportunities where I can make a difference in another person’s life, even if it’s a one-time thing or it affects only a few people or does so for only a short amount of time. It may not seem to have as much meaning or impact as sizeable donations made to major issues and initiatives, but whatever actions we take, and whatever donations we make, can be just as far-reaching, and can have a ripple effect that expands well beyond our awareness.

I hope that the focused giving being done by major foundations and fundraisers has the desired effect of reducing or wiping out some of the serious ills and issues in our society today. And I hope that all of us will do what we can to work on the rest of them.

© Betty Liedtke, 2010