Philanthropy Journal of North Carolina – War blurs civic vision

By Todd Cohen

President Bush, with a big hand from the news media, has stirred Americans into a frenzy.

Fearing terrorism and rabid for war, we’re gearing up for doom, and risk losing sight of the huge job we face of healing and changing our communities.

Charities and donors need to step up, speak out and make it clear that, whether at peace, on alert or at war, Americans must work harder to take on the pressing social needs we face at home.

The charitable and philanthropic world needs to move quickly because the odds of tackling social ills, already overwhelming, grow more grim in expectation of terrorist attacks and armed conflict.

War will steal precious resources that already are shrinking in a ragged economy, shaky stock market and government in retreat from social spending.

So as America girds for war, charities and donors must fight to pave the way for social progress.

First, charities should steel their internal operations, boards, staffs and financial support.

They also should set clear goals and gauges to measure their performance and impact.

And they must find ways to join forces with other charities and with government and business.

Based on their work on the front lines, charities also can shine a bright light on the fight against the poverty, poor health, illiteracy, joblessness, racism, intolerance and violence that keep our communities from growing and thriving.

To do that, charities must develop skills as lobbyists and advocates, pushing lawmakers, policymakers, civic and business leaders, the news media and citizens to better understand and more aggressively address our deepest social woes.

For their part, donors first must work harder to get to know the internal hurdles that charities face and the big social problems they try to tackle, and then must find ways to connect themselves to causes they care about.

Americans cannot afford to let war fever sidetrack us from the critical job of joining hands to mend the holes in our social fabric and change our communities to make them better places to live and work.

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