Opinion » Editorial


The societies that we build



About five years ago the Whistler Public Library and Whistler Museum and Archives announced that they had failed in their attempt to raise half the funds needed for a $9 million joint facility and were calling off the fundraising campaign. The economy had taken a dive in the year or two since a consultant’s study determined the $4.5 million fundraising target was achievable. And it didn’t help that while the library and museum were launching their campaign another public building, Millennium Place, was still looking for funds, after the municipality had been forced to step in to guarantee a mortgage in order to complete that project.

  At about the same time, in a far larger town, the University of Washington started Campaign UW: Creating Futures, a multi-year fundraising campaign with the monetary goal of raising $2 billion and the academic goal of making UW one of the great universities of the world — “to enable its students and faculty to intensify and expand their impact on economy, health, culture, education and environment.” Campaign UW was launched on July 1, 2000. As of September this year, $1.866 billion in gifts, grants and pledges had been raised.

The University of Washington, its 140-year history, its alumni and the surrounding City of Seattle are, of course, on a different plane than either Whistler institution or the town of Whistler. The fundraising efforts and resources are simply not comparable.

The point, rather, is that fundraising, charitable donations, philanthropy of some kind, is today an essential factor in the societies we build. Perhaps it has always been so, but it seems more obvious, more out in the open than ever before. And the sheer number of fundraising campaigns and the amount of money targeted suggests that not all campaigns will be successful.

Of course, it is not just institutions that need money. We often hear talk of how “government cutbacks” have led to the creation of food banks, social assistance agencies and support organizations. There is, in some instances, some truth to these statements. But it is not just “heartless” governments and faceless bureaucrats that have caused lineups for food banks to grow or necessitated capital campaigns to pay for medical equipment. The needs and causes in our society have grown as technology has become more complex and expensive, as our population has aged, as the gap between the haves and the have-nots has widened, and as the competition to get ahead has become fiercer.

Locally, we need only look to the Whistler food bank for an example. The food bank came about not because of government cutbacks, but in response to the growth of the town and the greater social complexity that follows a larger population and a more specialized workforce.

And while the fact that a food bank is needed in a town as wealthy as Whistler is a telling statement, the way the food bank is financed is equally significant.

The food bank is one of several social programs run by the Whistler Community Services Society, all of which are funded by profits made from the WCSS’s operation of the Re-Use It Centre. Used goods that might otherwise go into a landfill somewhere are dropped off at the Re-Use It Centre and then re-sold. The Re-Use It Centre brings in more than $300,000 annually.

Of course, contributions to worthy causes aren’t limited to material goods or monetary donations. Labour, skills and time are also important volunteer contributions. From the veterinarians who donate their time and expertise to help in spay and neuter programs, to the service club members, to volunteers who work with youth, seniors and the ill, there is an enormous amount of free labour dedicated to helping others and improving our society.

And then there are other societies. We may never see the world’s truly desperate, the more than 1 billion people whose income is less than $1 per day, but it has become impossible to ignore them. The world has become smaller and more interconnected, and we can no longer afford to view it as “them” and “us.” Helping these people and building their societies is a reflection of how we build our society.

We take more notice of others and the various needs of our society at this time of year. From the coin boxes strategically located at cash registers to collect spare change, to the fundraising dinners and auctions, to the local umbrella organizations such as the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation and the Community Foundation of Whistler, to international agencies helping the poor around the globe, there is no shortage of worthy causes that could use our help. Contributing to them is an important part of how we build our society.

Choose wisely, give generously, and celebrate the spirit of the season all year round.

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