Neighbors Helping Neighbors - Service Together

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Opening Remarks by Carl A. Anderson

Carl A. Anderson 
Carl A. Anderson 

Thank you very much, Father, and thank you all for being with us today on such short notice. When we called for this summit just over a month ago, the need was great. And today as we watch the continued deterioration of our economy and of the quality of life of so many of our fellow Americans, the need for our discussion is even greater. Our presence here today is truly a sign of hope for many. We have heard so much lately about the lack of consumer confidence, and we’ve heard expert after expert speak in bleak terms about the state of our economy. And certainly we are here to address the human cost of this crisis to help find solutions and to be part of those solutions.

But let us begin by understanding clearly that our gathering is also a symbol of hope. Hope for our nation’s most valuable resource: our people. The fact is that this current economic crisis has brought into stark relief the human cost of financial irresponsibility. The risky financial instruments, faulty lending practices, and urge to avoid risk by moving dangerous investments to somebody else’s balance sheet hurt not only those large corporations left holding the bag when those investments failed, but also millions of Main Street Americans.

A just released Knights of Columbus Marist College Poll found that Americans by a wide margin want ethics to guide every aspect of life, including business decisions. The poll also found that more than 90% of Americans and corporate executives as well believe that personal career advancement and personal financial gain motivate business decisions to the same extent as corporate gain and competitiveness. But only about a third of Americans and executives thought that considerations of the common good factored into corporate decision making. We need to help reform America’s decision making process so that the common good becomes more important than self interest. We are living with the effects of greed. Now it is time to say enough is enough. Now is the time to reclaim the best of the American spirit and to build a nation of neighbors helping neighbors. Some in our country it seems safe to say lost sight of who their neighbor is. But all of us here today know very well the answer to the question: who is my neighbor? That is why we are here.

Each of our neighborhoods and communities is like a family. And it is not right that anyone in this family should have to go hungry or be without adequate clothing or adequate shelter. As individuals involved in charitable and volunteer work, we know this, and we must spread this message. On the one hand, our message has resonance in light of the experience of failed greed. On the other hand, many charitable organizations face significant challenges as a result of the downturn in the economy. When we put out the call for this summit, we knew that the economic climate meant that charitable organizations would face increasing demands with decreasing donations. And we all know that the need is only going to get greater. The Associated Press reported this week that the unemployment rate is now at 7.6%, and is expected to reach 9% later this year. And even some economists off the record are speaking about a possibility of 11% or 12%. At the same time, the philanthropic giving index has fallen to the lowest point in a decade. Facing a year in which the resources of many charitable organizations will be stretched to the limit, all of us here understand the need to come up with creative solutions to the perfect storm of meeting more and more need with fewer and fewer dollars.

We need not recount today the economic devastation and its human toll. We already know this as the first responders to people affected by this economic meltdown. Each of us knows the needs in our own communities, whether we come from the Northeast, the West Coast, the Midwest, the South, or right here in New York, each of us has heard the stories and have witnessed the experiences of the newly poor, of those out of work for the first time, of those whose life savings have evaporated, of those who must choose between food and rent, and of the growing number of people who feel that their past was brighter than their future will be. We have come to a point where to fulfill our mission statement we have no choice but to find creative ways to do more good with less money. Fortunately, this is the United States, and Americans are world famous for their generosity. In fact, Americans give more to charity each year as a percentage of GDP than the citizens of any other country in the world, more than twice as much as the runner-up, Great Britain.

The question we face is how to tap into that spirit of giving when people of such generous spirit have less money to give. The answer, I believe, lies in giving Americans the opportunity to give the gift of their time. Though Americans monetary generosity is well-known, less well-known is that many Americans already give generously of their time. And unlike financial donations, which tend to increase with income, statistics indicate that the giving of time occurs approximately at the same percentages among Americans at every income level. It is our job to make sure that even more Americans realize that they can contribute regardless of their financial situation. And it is important that each of us realize the incredible value of such volunteer service. There may be fewer dollars available, but there are still 24 hours in day, and seven days in a week.

As Father mentioned, at the Knights of Columbus, we record two important charitable statistics each year. The first is the amount of money donated to charitable causes, but that of course is only half the story. The other part is the number of hours volunteered by the members of our organization. And we take justifiable pride in those numbers. Last year: $145 million to charity, 68 million hours of volunteer service. But actually, the hours of volunteer service are worth more. The organization Independent Sector sets a dollar amount value of $19.51 per volunteer hour. And so if you look at the value of 68 million hours on this standard, it amounts to $1.3 billion last year. But the value of the personal contribution, helping their neighbors, is really beyond value.

Volunteerism is not just the giving of time. It is the giving of ourselves. And by this gift, we are doing more than counteracting the economic recession. We are building a nation of neighbors willing to help their neighbor, making each of us more fulfilled as individuals, and creating a solidarity that makes us more united as communities and as a nation. The remarkable strength of the organizations represented here today depends not only upon our ability to spend money in worthy ways, but also upon our ability to match volunteer’s time and talent with individuals in need through an effective grassroots structure.

One of the hallmarks of our approach is that we are simply asking those in our communities to do what Americans have always done, pull together to help one another in a time of crisis. Here in New York a little more than seven years ago we saw the best of America in the outpouring of giving, volunteering, and support that followed the attacks on September 11. Americans from throughout the United States helped their neighbors in New York. The same occurred in 2005 following the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Americans from throughout the United States helped their neighbors in the Gulf Coast. Today the challenges are different, as we know. Not only is there less money and more need for charitable
services, but the problem we face presents significant geographical challenges. No one area is alone affected. We cannot bring a few volunteers from throughout the nation and focus them on one specific regional disaster. No neighborhood this time is untouched, and every neighborhood needs volunteers. Fortunately, America’s volunteer spirit remains strong. Recent statistics released by the Corporation for National and Community Service indicate that 68 million Americans volunteered more than eight billion hours last year. Our goal must be to increase both of those numbers, and we must put a priority, it seems to me, on meeting the most critical and immediate needs.

For the Knights of Columbus, this has meant focusing especially on helping to provide food and clothing. And all of us must consider what needs we feel our organizations are best suited to meet. All of the organizations and volunteer programs represented in this room were designed specifically to make a concrete difference. Just as every individual has unique experience to offer, each of our organizations has specific areas where our expertise can be most effective. And one of the most important aspects of our coming together at this summit is that it gives us the ability to share ideas, to learn from each other, and to build bridges of cooperation that can help us be of greater help to our communities. None of our organizations can do everything. But by contributing where we can and what we can do best, our communities and our country will benefit greatly.

Some of you may be familiar with the book Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits. I was struck in particular by four of the practices the authors list. I hope that as we discuss promoting volunteerism today and our individual and collective response to the economic crisis, we may find these useful. These practices are: to advocate and to serve. We cannot just do one or the other. We must also serve our communities through concerted grassroots outreach. Inspire evangelists. Great nonprofits see volunteers as much more than just a source of free labor. Volunteers who experience the joy of giving their time and talent are easily one of the best sources of one-on-one recruitment of additional future volunteers. Master the art of adaptation: facing this crisis we have little choice, but finding the right means of adapting will make a critical difference, not only for all of us, but for those we serve. And finally: nurturing nonprofit networks. This, of course, is what we are doing today.

So once again, welcome to this summit. Thank you for your attendance. And I look forward to our discussion of the critical issues we face and the good that we can accomplish together. Thank you very much.