President’s Day: A History of Philanthropy

20 Feb

With today being President’s Day and it being an election year, it seems only appropriate to look back at the history of presidential philanthropy throughout our nation’s rich history. This has not been the first time our country has faced an economic downturn, nor are the topics of inequality and health care new to our textbooks. Here is a look back at some causes that have been near and dear to our Commanders in Chief and by looking back, we’ll be able to assess the future.

Abraham Lincoln was forced with the issue of keeping a nation united amidst the chaos and tragedy of the Civil War. With racial conflicts as a central issue causing such dissention, he had the monumental task of changing the status quo to redeem the lives of thousands of slaves. Skip ahead one hundred years to the presidential term of John F. Kennedy and the racial riots of the 1960’s. The birth of the NAACP, March on Washington and leadership styles of Martin Luther King, Jr. clearly set the stage for modern nonprofits and their ability to garner a strong foundation of committed supporters.

Franklin D. Roosevelt had a mess to clean up as he entered office with the Great Depression influencing much of America and impacting the world. With the stock market debilitating the U.S. economy, international trade decreasing by 50%, unemployment reaching an unfathomable 25% and farms and factories shutting down in mass numbers, many people relied on the charitable acts of neighbors and government programs. I find it interesting that many of the issues from this time are still present today: How much government intervention is too much? Is there a common thread between the crash on Wall Street and the collapse of the current housing market?

Now here’s a crazy thought: Can you imagine how social media would have been used on these past causes? Imagine a cyber Underground Railroad and the texts that could have saved hundreds of lives. What about the Tweets that would have been posted during the King’s “I Have a Dream” speech? What kind of online fundraising campaigns would have been started during the Great Depression? How many people could have found jobs using Craigslist and Monster.com?

Fortunately we are not in the time of “what ifs,” but we can use these incredible online resources now. We can accomplish what no other generation could before us. If we could combine the passion and determination of the past with the potential of today, what kind of tomorrow will we see?

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