A Declaration

The Mark We Make: A Declaration

No matter how small, everyone wants to make a mark, leave a legacy, make a difference. It’s one of the unique things that makes us human. Sometimes that mark is made through time, sometimes through talent, sometimes through treasure. But whatever form the currency takes, each gift is directly connected to a belief, directly connected to a dream. Giving is natural. Generosity is easy. Except when it’s not.

And, unfortunately, that’s way too much of the time. Our needs, too often, get in the way of our nature. Our doubts about ourselves seep in and sap our power. Listen, you can hear it:

“I’m not rich enough.”
“I’m not talented enough.”
“I’m not old enough.”
“I’m not good enough.”
“I’m not powerful enough.”
“I’m not special enough.”

And on and on it goes.

These thoughts of scarcity continue to surround our search for success. “Who am I to think I could do something important?” “What difference could I really make?” So the need is not expressed, the gift is never given, the dream is always deferred. We lower our sights. We lower our hopes. We lower ourselves. And the poet observes correctly when he says: Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: “It might have been.”

Our foundation exists to change all that, by helping each person in Newaygo County change some small part of the world and some large part of themselves. We will change the foundation of our work from our priorities to their priorities. We will change our analysis from what they are by themselves, to what they could become with our help. And we will help each person look beyond their abilities, to their possibilities.

We have come to recognize that to go beyond good intention to great action, not one but six contributions must be made:

  • Someone must contribute the need it takes to make an inspiring story
  • Someone must contribute the idea it takes to solve old problems in new ways
  • Someone must contribute the time it takes to make a difference that lasts
  • Someone must contribute the talent it takes to build a new future
  • Someone must contribute the money it takes to turn dreams into reality
  • And we, the Community Foundation, must contribute the connection it takes to multiply all the other contributions

No one of these contributions is more important than the other, so that everyone who joins in this work—the donor and the grantee, the staff member and the student, the recipient and the board member, the school and the agency, the business and the hospital—all are equal partners in making our lives and our communities great. So to make the connections that are needed, we will frame our work in a new way. Sometimes we will raise the need, sometimes we will raise the money, sometimes we will raise the talent, sometimes we will raise the time, sometimes we will raise the idea, and always we will raise the expectation. In fact, the only thing that we will lower is the doubt that one person can really make a difference. In this way we will become a new-to-the-world matching fund. Because we won’t just match money with money, we will match money with the five other kinds of contributions that are required to make a lasting mark.

And what will we choose as the sign of our huge ambitions, as the symbol of our grand aspirations? We will choose one of the smallest, most humble, least significant marks in all the English language. We will choose the unremarkable apostrophe. Wonder why? Because it is the only mark that can transform the sense of impossibility that surrounds our county: the impossibility of our size, the impossibility of our economics, the impossibility of our resources, the impossibility of our problems. For you see, the tiny apostrophe, when added to all this scarcity has an enormous effect: it transforms Impossibility to I’m possibility. And in so doing it reminds us that the smallest contributions, properly connected, can produce the greatest results. It also reminds us that something is impossible only until someone decides that it’s not.

Our work is made possible by the longstanding tradition established by all those who have come before us. Those who have willingly sacrificed all that they are for all that they could become. We have stood on their shoulders to see our possibilities. And while our efforts are decidedly local, our effects will be determinedly international. We will be the model for a new kind of community foundation, one that is relationship-oriented and based on personal power, partnership, and possibility. One that realizes it should not first seek to get a contribution, it must first seek to be a contribution. Then, and only then, will we have made the mark that we intended.