By Todd Cohen
In a world ravaged by poverty, hunger, poor health, violence and intolerance, philanthropy can change lives.
Just ask Ron Archer.
At the 2009 National Philanthropy Day luncheon sponsored by the Triangle chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals in North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham region, the motivational speaker and former All-American middle linebacker smashed through the comfort zone that can insulate giving from the people it serves and the problems it addresses.
A one-time preacher who now runs an international economic-development network, Archer told a harrowing tale of a 10-year-old Cleveland kid who wanted to kill himself.
The boy was a “trick baby,” born to a teen girl who had become a prostitute at age 14 after her family plunged into poverty.
The boy’s childhood was a living nightmare.
With German and Caribbean grandparents, the biracial kid was an outsider who fit in nowhere and was shunned everywhere.
His teen mother was the victim of brutal physical and sexual abuse, abuse that Archer described graphically.
The boy stammered and was a chronic bed-wetter.
He himself was raped.
So at age 10, in possession of a gun, he wanted to end it all.
It was then, Archer told last week’s luncheon crowd, that philanthropy “found” that kid, who of course was Archer himself.
Somehow, some way, the often invisible world of social services discovered and connected with that lost child and helped him find and help himself.
Archer’s talk – it was more akin to a fire-and-brimstone sermon – stunned the crowd of roughly 270 fundraising professionals and donors at last week’s luncheon, held at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary.
And while Archer was swamped after the talk with well-wishers, a few of those in the audience privately voiced outrage at the blunt and disturbing details he shared about his life.
That reaction was unfortunate.
People working in the charitable marketplace, especially those whose job is to raise money from donors, often talk about philanthropy’s power to transform lives and fix urgent and horrific problems.
Professionals in the giving sector also emphasize the importance of telling stories that are authentic.
But real stories about real people and their real problems can make some philanthropy professionals uncomfortable.
The business of philanthropy is to heal and change lives, and the job of fundraising professionals is to engage givers and secure the resources their organizations need to be change agents.
A powerful tool to engage givers is storytelling – telling stories about people, the problems they face, and the role philanthropy can play in addressing the symptoms and causes of those problems.
Two of the organizations honored last week by the Triangle chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals were InterAct, an agency that supports victims of domestic violence, and Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina – agencies that offer precisely the kinds of services that can change the lives of people like Ron Archer and his mother.
Their stories, and those of others like them, need to be told, and told again, so that more givers get involved in making a difference.