Philanthropy turns ‘hows’ into ‘wows’

Each time we come together as a community, we harness the power of a collective soul

This particular column on philanthropy comes to you from the center of our state where last night our company participated in a record-setting paddle raise along the shores of Lake Chelan. A total of $3.5 million was raised during the evening to help fund a pool and community center.

As I reflect on the event, and all of the preparation and planning that went into it, my mind wanders to many such nights spent in places throughout the Pacific Northwest, where similar goals have been reached for a wide variety of mission fields, each seeking to strengthen our communities. And while the objectives themselves may differ – from art centers, to hospitals, grief support centers to fitness facilities, social services campuses to education campuses – there is a golden thread running through it all. And that thread is the tie that binds us.

A community center will indeed be built in Chelan, and a community that sits on the shores of a glistening 1,600-foot deep, 50-mile-long lake will finally have a year-round swimming pool for kids to learn to swim, for swim teams to excel in the sport and for a community to come together. But I see something else, something perhaps only 34 years in the philanthropy business can provide the opportunity to glean.  

Last night I saw a community come together to virtually will architectural renderings into reality. We have done these many times as a community in Southwest Washington, for organizations like Share, The Children’s Center, CDM Caregiving Services, Columbia Adventist Academy, Daybreak Youth Services, YMCA, YWCA, Community Home Health & Hospice, Vancouver Housing Authority, The Salvation Army and Innovative Services NW. In each case I can remember the very kindling spark where it started; almost always as a dream, lit by the imaginations of leaders who have gone on to become pillars of our nonprofit community: Diane McWithey, Pat Becket, Eric Erickson, Matthew Butte, Bob Hall, Sherri Bennett, Greg Pang, Roy Johnson, Majors Michael and Susan Knute, and Bob Gaylor.

I reflect also on the philanthropy legends who have fanned the flames of our nonprofit passions and dreams … names like Ed and Dollie Lynch, Ray Hickey, Bob Franz, George Propstra and others. Those names now adorn buildings, squares and parks, all of which started as dreams themselves.

Each time we come together as a community to dream as one, we harness the power of a collective soul.  We put aside our petty differences and cast our eyes on a far horizon where our differences often fail to register. The readers of this particular paper – I sense – have experienced this phenomenon. You have been in those settings where what once seemed impossible, then improbable, then elusive, then exhaustive, then within reach – and finally at hand – was achieved and celebrated.

Last night was such a night. One of the voices there had a clever twist on the proceedings. He said the very subject of “how” – as in how could this dream of a pool and community center ever become a reality – had turned into “wow.”

No one could ever say it better. For those of you who’ve been part of such a process, I probably need to provide no further explanation. You have had the experience of dreaming dreams that have ultimately shaped futures. For those of you whose futures may someday include such philanthropic and strategic ambitions, I would add only what Johann Wolfgang von Goethe famously said in the 18th century: “Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.”

Then again, I’m also partial to the more recent words I heard on the shores of Lake Chelan last night: “Philanthropy turns ‘hows’ into ‘wows.’”

Mike Westby is the president and CEO of Westby Associates, Inc. in Vancouver. He can be reached at mtwestby@westbyassociates.com.

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