A few days ago an apartment building near my house burned down. It was one of those tragic stories that makes you hold your family a little bit closer and count your blessings. As a nonprofit geek, it also made me think about the current financial state of the Red Cross and hope that they would be able to provide services to the 64 families left homeless by the fire just days before Christmas. Then something completely unexpected happened, an anonymous donor gave $1,000,000 to the victims of the fire. No strings attached and with the insistence that the money be disbursed immediately, so that the families would have it before Christmas. The generosity brought tears to my eyes because all I have been hearing for the last few months is how bad the economy is and that nonprofits and the people that we serve will be left out in the cold. This donor's generosity reminded me that giving is a basic human instinct and we will continue to support each other, especially during hard times.
Image courtesy of the Star Tribune
It can be argued that, especially in these tough times, there are better ways to use that money. The donor could have leveraged it as a challenge grant to get more funds to the Red Cross, they could have offered to pay two months of rent for each family (and spared the families from the tax burden and other financial implications of a cash gift), they could have started a public information campaign about the need for sprinkler systems in older apartments or the benefits of renters insurance, or they could have build more affordable housing to replace the building that was lost. They could have done a lot of things but they helped in the way that they thought would be the fastest way to meet the needs of these families. As a professional philanthropist, I often get caught up in the how of the giving. This donor reminded me that the why is even more important because that is where our humanity is.