Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Quiet Actions in a Loud World

Recently my friend Holland Williams, President of the Junior League of Charleston (, lent me a copy of a book that was recommended to her: Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy. The story is about the remarkable response of forgiveness of the Amish community to the horrific shooting of ten schoolgirls at Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, in October 2006. The book came up in conversation one day as Holland and I were discussing what “community” really means…and how often we (yours truly, especially!) are guilty of putting self before others – even when we are in the ‘midst’ of doing community service.

One point I learned about the Amish community in reading this book is their practice of restraint when it comes to publicity. This especially became apparent during news coverage of the Nickel Mines shooting in October 2006. The authors state, “The Amish also refrain from publicity because, as a collective society, they believe that the community should come first, not the individual. (emphasis mine) Having one’s name in a newspaper story manifests pride by calling attention to one’s opinions; therefore, some Amish people will talk to the press but only if they can remain anonymous. Faith must at times be practiced in public but should not, in the Amish view, be showcased.”

As I read these words, it struck me that Coastal Community Foundation’s donors practice their philanthropy much like the Amish practice their faith. Our donors seem much more interested in quietly doing the right thing than they are in receiving accolades for doing good deeds. Now don’t get me wrong, often our donors’ efforts receive recognition from the community – and they should. Or sometimes donors will put their good name behind an effort in order to encourage others to support it – and that is a good thing too. I am thinking of the countless anonymous donors who give through Coastal Community Foundation. I am thinking of the lady and gentleman, both of modest means, who visited our office a couple of weeks ago, interested in establishing a scholarship to honor the life of their dear friend and colleague who is dying of cancer. They do this selflessly to honor their friend and to carry on her legacy of community service by inspiring local scholars to do the same. I am thinking of the generous lady who recently established a fund to benefit low-income children, in honor of her deceased husband. And I am thinking of the retired businessman who has thrown himself, body, mind and spirit, into using his business acumen to help struggling arts organizations while simultaneously raising funds to launch a much needed literacy program in local Title I schools. I am inspired by each and every one.

Reading Amish Grace caused me to reassess how I make decisions about philanthropy. Do I agree to volunteer activities because it will raise my visibility as an individual, or because I truly believe in the cause and want to serve others? Do I make charitable donations in hopes of showing up on some donor roster or to curry favor with community leaders? Or do I do it because simply, quietly, it is my way of doing the right thing. I am grateful to have a job where I am daily convicted by the quiet, thoughtful generosity of the donors with whom I am privileged to work.

1 comment:

Richard Hendry said...

I love this thoughtful post -- reminds me of Maimonides' "8 levels of charity" or tzedekah, re: what's the real motivation for our giving.