On Philanthropy: The Case for a Way Back

climber being helped by team members to get to the topLet's appreciate the nonprofits that restore individual potential

Contributed by AFPSEWI
Milwaukee Business Journal
January 17, 2020 issue

Each year, philanthropic donors bring enlightenment, health and opportunity to area residents through charitable gifts to nonprofit organizations. 

But those of us who genuinely care about community-building must support one more mission:  restoring the ability of troubled and at-risk neighbors to thrive as community members.

Reconnecting troubled people to their potential is a complex “sell” to donors and volunteers, as local nonprofits like Lad Lake, St. A, Running Rebels and others can attest.  Let’s face it – it’s tempting to view court-ordered youth or formerly incarcerated people as “someone else’s problem;” many donors find it easier to give to their alma mater, hospital, or favorite cultural institution.

But until we discover the magic wand that cures all poverty, abuse, neglect and exploitation, some members of our community will inevitably make choices they later regret.  When they do, will capable and compassionate organizations be there to offer them a hand-up to a better future? Or is our community content to incur the much greater human and financial costs of incarceration and lifelong social support? 

Without institutions that help people overcome their past and redeem their potential, none of us lives in a complete and viable community.  If the purpose of society is to sustain quality of life for all, then a community that fails to offer these people a path back has itself failed.

Supporting organizations that take on this challenge takes a special kind of donor – a donor who recognizes how negative behavior can mask amazing potential for success…who believes hidden potential should not be wasted…who finds inspiration in human resilience…who understands that only by preventing or redeeming failure in each generation do we truly succeed as a community.

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter. This month’s column is contributed by Doug Diefenbach.