Kumbaya

October 6, 2008       Paul Clolery      

There’s a “We Are The World” feeling going around the charitable sector. Maybe the election season brings out the feeling that it’s time to lend a hand. Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie taught us that it’s the greatest gift of all.

There were two events during the past few weeks that brought a lot of bold-faced names out of the woodwork. The first arm-linking event was the Stand Up To Cancer fundraiser for cancer research. It reportedly brought in $100 million, mostly from major donations secured prior to the simulcast which was on all three broadcast networks for an hour. The event brought together the celebrity world’s biggest names and trotted out some cancer survivors who would be recognizable to almost everyone.

So, with all of those hundreds of choices of spokespeople, you have to wonder why smoker Jennifer Aniston (cigarettes, that wasn’t a lascivious comment) was selected to make the final pitch to viewers. There were numerous other smokers in ready view of the cameras. Smoking causes cancer, right? Maybe I missed the memo that a cure had been found for lung cancer.

The idea, organizers said, was to raise money and awareness for the fight against cancer. Does anyone really need to be made more aware of cancer? The foundation and the American Association for Cancer Research put on quite a show. It cost millions. Granted most of the time and effort was donated. But had all of the networks actually written larger checks, it probably would have done more good. Four months from now nobody is going to remember the show and the efforts of all of those volunteers.

A couple of weeks later in New York City, the ServiceNation Summit, bankrolled by a handful of foundations, brought together executives from more than 110 nonprofits. They talked about strategies for expanding the number of people brought into national service, everything from the military to AmeriCorps to the charity down the block. The organizers engineered federal legislation to fund the expansion of AmeriCorps from 75,000 people to 250,000. They also tied everything to a national day of service and roughly 2,500 events were scheduled.

ServiceNation, too, had a television program. CNN broadcast a Q&A with the two major party candidates for president on the topic of national service. John McCain and Barack Obama are now on the record in support of the legislation and national service in general.

Executives attending ServiceNation were brought together and encouraged to work together. Stand Up To Cancer came to the dance with the idea they alone had the answers and that decades of breakthroughs that are curing some people and managing the disease of others really weren’t all that special. ServiceNation stressed collaboration for bringing ideas to scale for the national good.

The sector can’t go on, pretending day-by-day, that you can go your own way on a large scale. There’s plenty of room for a specific idea to handle a unique problem. But for the scale of a movement, such as national service, it takes cooperation.

Everyone in the sector are the ones who make a brighter day. The light gets brighter when there’s large-scale coordination and egos left at the door.

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This article is from NPT Weekly, a publication of The NonProfit Times.

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