Maybe the quiet, the extra time with partners or children or the radical change in our lives made it happen, but 2020 gave us (if we decided to take it) a chance to look again at our jobs, our schools, our homes, our friends, family and all of the people we love. There has been an almost unfathomable magnitude of loss of life, learning, liberty and livelihoods-I am not minimizing these at all. However, this week, we received a huge reminder of the thousands of gifts of this year.
MacKenzie Scott, who is an author, mother and philanthropist, chose 384 charities – out of the more than 1.5 million US charities – for major gifts. Ms. Scott consulted with hundreds of field experts, funders, and non-profit leaders and volunteers with decades of experience to pick the 384 beneficiaries. She said they leveraged the, “…collective knowledge base in a collaboration that included hundreds of emails and phone interviews, and thousands of pages of data analysis on community needs, program outcomes, and each non-profit’s capacity to absorb and make effective use of funding.” After their extensive due diligence, Ms. Scott gave Easter Seals Greater Houston its largest gift ever – $7 million dollars. Our expectation is that we will be able to multiply the impact of her gift by using it, in part, as a challenge fund – asking other donors to help us truly leverage her gift to achieve our ambitious goals.
We plan to use her gift in three ways:
- Stabilize – as a reserve and operating funds to allow us to access more government funding (you incur the costs and get reimbursed a few months later-creating cash flow issues);
- Strengthen – as a bridge to sustainability for our existing programs by funding ways to grow and take clients off of waiting lists for services; and
- Grow – as a way to invest in promising new ways to deliver services and address emerging needs locally and invest in the Easter Seals affiliate network initiatives nationally.
I have huge respect for the non-profits working in the Houston area-there is amazing work being done, but I know that Easter Seals Greater Houston is special. Just a few of the memorable gifts this year include:
- a crumpled dollar mailed with a note of encouragement from an older donor;
- our BridgingApps program which helped us and lots of others in the community transition to tele-services and made 75 videos to support families during the pandemic;
- the employee who bought groceries for a client’s family to tide them over until we could get them more help;
- our record-breaking virtual Walk With Me fundraiser which was supported with walkers from around the world;
- our staff embracing tele-services by sharing what they learned and becoming a real lifeline for clients who felt completely isolated;
- our Emergency Assistance Program which helped thousands of local families get through the toughest times;
- the Veterans Team who stayed on call 24 hours a day because so many families were facing increasing financial and mental health challenges;
- The hundreds of families who received financial coaching and the 38 low-income families who bought their first home with our help- one who said, “We have hope now. We have hope for our children…”
Our mission statement is “Help. Hope. Answers.” The gifts of this year have been extraordinary. Ms. Scott’s transformational gift helps make us stronger, braver, and surer that we can keep doing the work that is so badly needed in our community. You have truly allowed us to realize our mission-in the midst of the struggle and pain of 2020, there has been real beauty.
I love the way Ms. Scott ended her post about her gifts, “If you’re craving a way to use your time, voice, or money to help others at the end of this difficult year, I highly recommend a gift to one of the thousands of organizations doing remarkable work all across the country. Every one of them could benefit from more resources to share with the communities they’re serving. And the hope you feed with your gift is likely to feed your own.” I do not have an adequate way to thank Ms. Scott, our staff or all of you who have supported us other than to tell you, we will try to honor your support and trust in us by serving veterans, service members, people with disabilities and their families with the care, integrity, passion and skill that they deserve.
CEO, Easter Seals Greater Houston