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.
President and Trustee
The Sunderland Foundation
Recipient of the
2018 GROWING PHILANTHROPY AWARD FOR TRANSFORMATIONAL CAPITAL PHILANTHROPY
Kent Sunderland was presented with the prestigious Growing Philanthropy Award in Kansas City by Hartsook President and CEO
Matthew J. Beem during National WWI Museum and Memorial’s VIP event, Night at the Tower.
He was nominated by Matthew Naylor, Ph.D., President and CEO of the National WWI Museum and Memorial, and was selected unanimously by Hartsook Institutes and the International Board of Visitors Growing Philanthropy Committee.
Kent was Vice Chairman of Ash Grove Cement prior to its recent sale. As President of The Sunderland Foundation, he has played a significant role in advancing philanthropy with major gifts.
The Growing Philanthropy Award recognizes a distinguished group of individuals and organizations whose efforts increase philanthropy through research, innovation and challenging the status quo. For more information, contact [email protected].