I have had trouble writing this blog. For a number of reasons, the Paterno/Sandusky/Penn State/and you could add several other past leaders of Penn State debacle has been of interest to me.In my fundraising practice, I have served many domestic violence and child abuse prevention organizations. I understand the horrific things that happen to people. In addition, I have been fortunate to be at the forefront of college athletics and have seen the corruption that can exist. I have even been an acting athletic director and have felt the seduction of everyone wanting something. I was even part of a major college dropping football because of the economic consequence of a previous collegiate scandal.So I get the issues.While nothing can revise history for so many people harmed by the incidents, I appreciate NCAA’s understanding that haste and severity were in order when they issued their sanctions.This blog is actually not about any of the above. It is about recognition.I am proud to be someone who has created, sanctioned, established, given and orchestrated recognition for hundreds of thousands of people and institutions. Friends reading this have heard me say, “Our culture is one in which we want the recognition to come to us and we should not reach out for it.” I still believe that.So my point in this message is that after the removal of Sandusky’s name from a Penn State Child Care Center; Paterno’s name from the Big 10 Football Championship Trophy; Sandusky’s association with Second Mile Club; Paterno’s statue removal; Paterno’s name dropped from the Nike Corporate Child Care Center; and Paterno’s name removed from Brown University’s Outstanding Freshman Athlete–and I suspect other names are being scratched off trophies, awards, buildings and plaques because of their association with this–that we refrain the retreat from saying thank you and expressing our appreciation in some tangible, “permanent” form.Some national organizations–the Salvation Army for example–will not recognize a living person with naming, and other groups feel the same way. Certainly they have the right to do whatever they want. But there is false security in thinking you will never have to worry about a scandal hitting you because of something the person–dead or alive–did after the recognition. There is a much greater certainty you and they will have missed the joy, satisfaction, and uplift that only recognition can bring.I just turned 64, and several years ago I started reaching out to people who had influenced me in many ways to express my respect and value for their touching my life. Even after so many years in the business, I was surprised that my words and heartfelt gratitude were so welcomed and appreciated. Our hearts–not our egos–thrive on being acknowledged for our actions.But more important than my simple, expressed gratitude is the public recognition of philanthropy, volunteerism and values. When Paterno and Sandusky were recognized, I want to believe that those who orchestrated the recognition didn’t know about the criminal enabling by one and the horrific acts of another.Several years ago, I made a decision not to remove a name on an athletic field because the person recognized had been convicted of financial fraud, and was serving five years in jail. I’m not sure I did the right thing, but my reasons were the same as everyone who is calling on Penn State not to remove the convicted people’s names: “Look at all the good he did in his life.” (And in my example after he got out, the good he did in the remainder of his life.) But let me be the first to say, the question of this level of financial mismanagement versus child abuse is, as my friend Murray would say, a “no brainer.”Almost everyone who would have visibility worthy of significant recognition probably did wonderful things during their lives, gave people jobs, invested in their communities, helped a family member down on his luck. So I get that, too.The University of Missouri returned a million dollars when a senior decision maker at Enron was indicted. A medical school in Kansas City removed a former President’s name after a series of financial mismanagement incidents were discovered. I could go on and on, and I guess I don’t disagree with their removal.But many thousands and thousands of people are and have been recognized by organizations and institutions who are proud to bear their names. These philanthropists and outstanding people have given their institutions two gifts–their good names and their resources. And no doubt, many have left this earth with pride in that recognition as a symbol of their values and character.Unfortunately, we will always have those rare, unfortunate situations to deal because humans will sometimes do harmful, inexplicable, immoral and unlawful things.But there are far more acts of selflessness, philanthropy and leadership that go unrecognized than names that need to be removed. Be fearless and generous with your appreciation. Don’t let the slight chance that this could happen to you limit your view of saying thank you.
Will You Be There When John Shamberg Calls?
A big part of fundraising is showing up and being available. I learned this lesson on a very memorable New Year’s Eve, a very long time ago.
As an eager young fundraiser working for Washburn University, I didn’t know that it was unusual still to be at work in the evening of December 31st. But, there I was.
Earlier that year, a graduate of Washburn University School of Law told me he was going to give a gift of land to his synagogue, a private K-12 school and Washburn. John Shamberg, who has since passed away, made millions of dollars for institutions all over the world, and he wanted to give a significant gift to organizations he valued. His 40 acres of land on the outskirts of Kansas City were valued at $450,000, and his intention was to give $150,000 each to three organizations.
He’d left the task to the last day of the year, but now he was ready to make it happen.
He called the synagogue. No answer.
He called the K-12 school. No answer.
Then, he called Washburn and got me.
“Bob,” he said, “you just won the jackpot!”
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