By Sarah B Lange under Uncategorized on September 8, 2023

Powered by Philanthropy - Stories about How Philanthropy Changed the Course of History and More!

You can watch the full episode on YouTube or listen to Spotify.

Hey everyone, I'm Sarah Lange and I'm here to spark the philanthropy revolution. The word philanthropy means love of mankind. My show is all about the ways we can open our doors and hearts so we can do more good.

Hey everybody from hot and humid Massachusetts. It's been quite a week here. It's been in the nineties. So for those of you who live in southern climes, I don't know how you make it through the summer. It gets this hot and I sort of start to melt. So more power to you. And I guess thank God for air conditioning.

Today I want to share some amazing stories with you that came from a series I wrote called Powered by Philanthropy. And the first one I want to share with you is about a guy named Robert Goddard, who is actually from Worcester, Mass. He was born in 1882 and he's dubbed as the father of modern rocketry because he was one of the first people to believe we could go to space. And he realized the potential of space flight. But obviously in 1882 we were nowhere near space flight. So of course everybody thought he was a nutcase. But he was very creative and he had this background in science and engineering, which kind of made him the ideal person to come up with the idea of launching rockets to space. He got his first path in 1916 and then 10 years later he launched and built the first liquid fuel rocket.

What does this have to do with philanthropy? Well here's the thing. Because no one at that point believed we could actually go to space, you might imagine that was kind of hard for Robert Goddard to get the money he needed to continue with his research. But Charles Lindbergh, who made the first nonstop air flight from New York to Paris, actually saw this spark of genius inside of Goddard and he was friends with Daniel Guggenheim. Yes, that family of Guggenheim Museum fame. And his son Harry and the Smithsonian Institute at that point also kind of saw this spark of genius in him. And so they at that point it was called the Daniel Guggenheim Fund. Now it's like the Guggenheim Foundation. But they were the primary backers of Goddard and they gave him $183,500. And today that would be over $2.6 million. So it was a pretty significant investment to make in Goddard's concept of going to space.

He made some of the greatest engineering contributions of all time. He had more than 200 patents in rocket technology at a time when space was a thing of dreams. It was like nobody thought we could do this, right? He is actually the reason we have a US space program. And he made it possible for us to go to Mars and the moon and beyond. So in acknowledgement of his contribution in 1961, NASA actually established the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland as its first spaceflight context. And his widow Esther was present at the dedication ceremony 35 years to the day after he launched his first liquid-fueled rocket on his Aunt Effie's farm in Massachusetts. Today the center studies the earth, the sun, the solar system, and the entire universe on a 5.2 billion annual budget. So this is a guy who everybody thought was a nut and philanthropy made his research possible. And he's the reason we went to the moon.

Philanthropy sent us to the moon. Yes, it was NASA. But if philanthropy hadn't stepped in and propped up Roderick Goddard at a critical time, who knows who would have gone to space first? And I'm really excited because I'm working right now with a guy who's a huge Robert Goddard fan. He actually bought the Goddard house here in Worcester. And he's not just fascinated with Goddard as kind of this visionary, but he's also interested in people like Tesla and the Wright brothers, these inventors, he calls them visionaries, who everyone thought was crazy. And yet they were these geniuses who were just ahead of their time. And so we are creating a centennial series of events to spark the imagination of the next generation and celebrate the next round of Goddards who are already kind of out there. So it's really fun to now working on this for the next generation. So that's been a blast. And, you know, it's March 2026. So stay tuned.

The other story I want to share with you is, you know, a lot of you have probably heard of the organization called the March of Dimes. But I don't know if you know this, the cure for polio was made possible by philanthropy. So until like the mid 50s, polio was like really devastating. It was contagious. And it affected about 30,000 people in the United States every year. And most of these people were kids. And more than half of these children were paralyzed. Excuse me. And thousands ended up in leg braces or wheelchairs. Some of them actually were confined to an iron lung, which is like a metal cylinder, which actually did breathing for them. I'm not entirely sure how it worked, but it kept them breathing. But these people were unable to move. So if you can imagine a kid locked in a iron tube, not able to move, I can't even imagine how difficult that must have been. And then even for those people that recovered, they often faced post polio syndrome, which included muscle pain, joint pain, fatigue, respiratory problems and loss of muscle strength. So, you know, it was really important to people in the country to figure out, like, how do we prevent polio?

At that time in the mid 50s, there were less than 40 folks who were virologists and only a few were focused on polio. And it really wasn't until President Roosevelt got the disease as an adult that things really changed. So he loaned his name and his leadership to transform this tiny little nonprofit called the National Foundation for Infant Paralysis (NFIP). It's a long name, right? And they began raising money in 1938. And what was their strategy? To ask for dimes, right? So this is why it's called the March of Dimes. So people got really captured by this idea, like we give dimes and we can possibly cure polio. People got really, really excited. And so the money started pouring in and people would collect dimes in cans. People would throw down tarps at basketball courts at halftime and people would like literally throw their change from the stands. And they used lots of other creative strategies to collect loose change.

Walt Disney even got in on the action. So he created an ad featuring the seven dwarfs, which is the one of the largest health related campaigns to date in terms of the money it returns. So that's pretty amazing. So back in 1940, they raised three million dollars. Like that's a lot of money in 1940. And by ‘53, it was over 50 million dollars. And today in today's money, excuse me, that would be about 500 million dollars. So this is all loose change. This isn't somebody writing you a check for a hundred thousand dollars. These are pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, right? That led up to this massive amount of money. So that's where most of the donations came from. Some people contributed as little as a dime, which is in today's world would be a hundred a dollar eighty five. And the year that Jonas Salk announced that he had invented the polio vaccine, 80 million people had contributed to the March of Dimes. That's amazing. Eighty million people. Right. So this is 25 times the amount of funding that the government gave to Jonas Salk. So he actually invented polio because of the massive amount of support that he got from people who are contributing change. So I just think that's amazing.

This story shows how one citizen and many citizens can improve the world. And it was the first time that people were asked directly to support science. And like, obviously, they stepped up in a huge way. And so the goal was really clear to eradicate polio. And they were successful because they were able to connect the dots between the interests of scientists and the donors themselves. So most of them wanted a vaccine like yesterday. So they were really compelled and there was a sense of urgency. So that's what made it really important to people.

Between 1938 and 1959, the March of Dimes spent $315 million on direct support for people who were suffering from the disease and its effects. $55 million on research, $33 million on fellowships, education and training of medical practitioners. So you have to remember, like there were a lot of people who were still learning about polio and how to treat polio. And so this resulted in a trained and educated pool of 372 researchers, 288 physicians,2674 physical therapists, 7780 medical school workers, sorry, medical social workers, 143 nurse supervisors, 62 PT and OT supervisors and about 3200 other health related professionals. That's a lot of people. So it's amazing. Like there was this massive shift. Like it was a ground shift change in polio. And they also changed philanthropy. So because of the way they went about fundraising, citizens raising money for disease is now the norm. So think about like Susan G. Coleman, the American Heart Association, the Muscular Dystrophy Association. I don't know if any of you guys remember those Jerry Lewis telephones. Like this is now normative and it all started because a bunch of moms started collecting a bunch of loose change to end polio. So talk about impact. Boom

The other thing I want you guys to know is philanthropy also had a major impact on the stock market. Now, I'm sure you guys are wondering like, “oh, let's see Sarah connect these dots.” But it's true. There was a guy named Alfred Cowles and he was born in the late 1800s into a family of business tycoons. And he became wealthy by giving people advice on their investments. But in 1929, when the stock market crashed, he had doubts about the worth of his profession because at that time they really relied on guessing. And there was like no way to predict the outcomes when you're just guessing. So, excuse me. Still recovering. So he decided that we needed more information that was scientifically based about the significance of market market fluctuations. And he wanted a more objective way to view those fluctuations and look for patterns and things. So he wanted to develop tools for analysis. So this is where philanthropy steps in. So he teamed up with economists from both the United States and Europe to apply mathematics and statistics to economics. And so they actually created a new field called econometrics. Say that three times fast. And they started looking at quantitative economists and looking at how we could predict the behavior of the stock market. So this is back in 1931. Right. So only two years after the crash, he funded this group of people.

They looked at the analytical tools that were available and he grabbed some of the best minds in the world to create and test some of the most important economic ideas of our time. So, for example, he created the Cowles Index, which is actually the precursor to the Standard and Poor's 500 Index, which everybody uses in the stock market, whether you're investing or trading or whatever. That's like your go to resource. So this is a guy who funded a bunch of economists and mathematicians to figure out a way to improve the performance of the stock market and his profession. And we're still using that today, which is amazing. 

He also figured out how to look at the importance of weighing risk and return, excuse me, and forwarded new theories about portfolio selection and asset allocation. Right. These are all modern terms, but he was doing this work back in 1931. So these ideas are not new to us now, but that's because they've been adopted by world leaders to manage the global economy and retirement funds. But at the time, they were mind blowing, groundbreaking ideas. And the nine fellows that he pulled together, they all received the Nobel Prize in Economics. And that was shortly before he died in 1984. So there's now the Cowles Foundation, which is situated at Yale University, and they continue to research the connection between economics, math and statistics. And they've created some of the most important advanced modern economic theory. And so the work was forwarded and funded by Cowles originally, but it's now the underpinning of our stock market and modern economics. So again, his philanthropy changed the stock market. Right. So that's that's a major philanthropic impact. 

I also want to introduce you to Alfred Loomis. What is this with the guys named Alfred, right? So the course of World War II actually changed because of philanthropy. And like these are not stories you're going to hear. So this is why I've dug them up and I'm sharing with you. So he was also born in the late 1800s and he was a lawyer, but he served in World War I. And while he was working at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, which is where they try out bombs and other things that explode in Maryland, he invented the Aberdeen Chronograph, which is the first instrument that actually measured muzzle velocity of artillery shells. And it was portable enough to use in the battlefield. So this probably doesn't sound that important to us, but if you're on the battlefield, it's easier to measure the speed of larger shells and and aircraft catapults. So it was changing the way that they kind of were combating the enemy. Cannot talk today. So he came home from World War I and he decided to go into investment banking, ditching the law. I can't blame him. And he and his brother in law purchased a company that focused on public utilities right at the time when electricity was being put into place in rural America. So for a really long time, folks in rural America did not have electricity. And so that started happening after World War II, after World War I. Sorry.

He actually anticipated the 1929 Wall Street crash. Too bad he didn't talk to Alfred Cowles ahead of time. Right. But he converted all of their assets to gold, which allowed them to survive the crash. And then Loomis, in the wake of the crash, had always had an interest in science. He turned his attention away from banking and built a personal laboratory near his home in upstate New York. And he started looking into the science of spectrometry, high frequency sound, capillary waves, electroencephalography. Again, I don't know what that word means. And a precise measurement of time. And don't worry, I don't know what most of those terms mean either. But anyway, he was kind of looking at the way sound and things move. And so he invited a bunch of scientists, including Einstein, to come work at his lab and he paid the way for those scientists who couldn't afford to travel and stay and work for free. So this became the Palace of Science and it was a meeting place for the most visionary minds of the 20th century where they could come and collaborate and share and share ideas. 

In 1938, his investment led to the construction of a 184 inch cyclotron, which was the first of its kind. And he was pioneering a small microwave radar. Right. So we're getting closer to things we understand. His advances were noticed by the government here and in England. And soon he was heading up a team at MIT and he really advocated for the development of the radar. And the military was like, “radar, that's never going to work.” Right. So he just kept advocating, advocating, advocating. And so he just kept funding the lab until the feds finally decided that his worth, his idea was worthwhile and gave them some money. So he was paying for this out of his pocket. And so he and his team at MIT created a 10 centimeter radar, which was a key piece of technology, which allowed the Allied forces to sink German U-boats, spot incoming bombers and provide cover for the D-Day landing. So because of radar, millions of lives were saved and the war was brought to an end much sooner than it otherwise would have been.

Then he went on to invent long range radio navigation. And this was used up until 2010 when GPS took over. Right. So that's amazing. From World War II to 2010, his technology was still being used. And he also made significant contributions to the development of ground controlled approach technology for aircraft, which allows ground control to aid pilots in poor weather conditions. So obviously this has huge implications, not only for military flights, but for commercial flights. Right. So you can now fly through thunderstorms and lightning storms and fog. It may not be fun, but at least you can do it and get where you're going. So he played this really central role in the Allied victory in World War II. And these advances that he and his fellow scientists made, which were mostly funded by his own investments, they laid the groundwork for the technology we use today. So I don't know if anybody's cooked in a microwave lately, but you can thank Alfred Loomis for that that invention. So what he knew is inventors plus investors equals innovation. Right.

When you have people who have inventive ideas, who are visionaries like Goddard, like Loomis, you need people to support your dream, even if it seems crazy. And that's what leads to innovation. So what would happen if you put that equation to work at your organization?

The other thing I want to talk to you about today is how two  broken-hearted moms completely changed the way that we think about impaired driving. So in 1970, there was no such thing as a designated driver. The idea didn't even exist. And drunk driving was not even an offense that you could arrest somebody for, even though it was killing tens of thousands of people every single year. So two  broken-hearted moms from opposite sides of the country decided that enough was enough. So this woman named Cindy Lambie, her car was hit by a drunk driver and it turned her healthy five month old daughter into a quadriplegic. So in the blink of an eye, her daughter's life was irrevocably changed. And a year later, across the country, Candy Lightner's daughter was killed by a drunk driver. So for those of you who are parents, you can imagine how awful this was for these two moms. And to add insult to injury, both drivers had numerous arrests for drunk driving. One was driving illegally and the other had a valid driver's license. So they created local groups to address this problem. And in 1990 or sorry, 1980, they created MAD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. And so the idea behind MAD is to end impaired driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these crimes and prevent underage drinking. So these women hit the pavement with other people and really started banging on the doors of legislators. And they organized a lot of other folks who were  broken-hearted from, you know, they had been affected by this. And so they were able to establish 11 chapters in four states in a year. Right. So now you've got this movement happening across the country.

Their heartbreak led to a national transformation of attitudes and policies and the change at which this happened. And so the scale and change was on a national level that far surpassed the usual pace of business in Washington. So they were just hammering on doors and, you know, getting people to do what they wanted. And so they attracted donations of all sizes, including two leaders from major insurance companies who had serendipitously lost people to drunk drivers. So you've got two local people from insurance companies putting some money behind this. So in 1983, highway accidents involving alcohol resulted in economic losses of more than 20 billion dollars, along with incalculable toll and human suffering, lost potential, permanent injuries and deaths. And each year, 25000 people died in alcohol related traffic incidents and they were disproportionately young. So compare that to 1980 to 1994, there was a 41% decrease in alcohol related deaths. So in 14 years, they were able to cut that number almost in half, which is phenomenal. That just shows you how much knowledge, attitudes and behaviors changed in a very short period of time. So these days there's over 600 MAD chapters in all 50 states and countries around the world. And about a third of their funding comes from memberships. And true to their roots, they continue to enlist that enlist the help of, sorry, tens of thousands of people who have been afflicted by this problem. So they are responsible for more than 2300 laws relating to impaired driving. And they are the ones who are responsible for the national drinking age going up to 21 and the concept of a designated driver. So they are still at work because every day there are 300000 drivers on the road who admit to being drunk. That's a lot of drunk drivers. It makes me want to stay home. So, you know, devastation can happen in a blink of an eye. So there's about 30 people a day getting killed. And each of these deaths is preventable because, you know, the drivers are impaired. So there's more than 300000 injuries every year that result from alcohol related accidents. And entire communities can be impacted by these losses. 

MAD has pledged to continue its work until there are no victims. So it seems like they're probably going to be at it for a long time coming. But I just think it's amazing that two  broken-hearted moms turned their pain into action that changed the United States and the way we handle drinking. So what's making you mad and what might be possible if you gathered other heartbroken folks and use that as fuel for transformation? Just asking.

The other project I want to tell you about, I know I've been talking about men, men, men, men, men, right? So I'm going to turn my attention to women. I want to talk about women powered philanthropy. So I wrote this in memory of Simone Joyeux. She was my friend, my colleague and my mentor. And she passed away on May 2nd in 2021. And she left a big hole in my and many other people's hearts and also a big hole in the world of philanthropy. For those of you who don't know Simone, she was a no holds barred, take no prisoners kind of person. And she said it was what it was like. And the first time I ever met her, I was just really like enamored with her spirit and her energy and her passion, but also her no nonsense approach, because I don't know if you guys have figured that out. I tend to be kind of direct. So I immediately resonated with Simone and I went up to her after the workshop and I said to her, I said, you know, I was fairly young at the time. I think I was it was like 1995 because I think I moved to Worcester like a year or two before. But anyway, it was I went up to her and I said, “I want to be you when I grow up.” And she looks at me, she goes, “you could do better than this.” So I've taken that as a challenge, Simone, even though you're not with us anymore, nipping at your heels. But no, she was just an amazing woman who deeply, deeply cared about nonprofits. And if I could have a tenth of the impact that Simone had, I will pass into the next world a happy human being.

Simone was one of the founding people behind the Women's Fund of Rhode Island and has distributed more than a million dollars in funding to address gender inequity. And all of this has been powered by philanthropy. So she approached the Rhode Island Foundation back in the year 2000 and asked if they'd work with her to create the Women's Fund of Rhode Island. And thankfully, they said yes, although knowing Simone, she probably would have kept banging on doors until someone said yes. She was a force to be reckoned with. So four years later, the Social Justice Fund became its own independent nonprofit and they started a new kind of grant making program directed specifically at activities that would improve gender equity for both women and girls in Rhode Island. So their funding priorities are looking at systems change ideas to level the playing field, civic engagement and leadership, economic self-sufficiency, justice, particularly around the issues of pay and living wages, the health and well-being of all women and girls, particularly freedom to reproductive health and freedom from sexual harassment. But it goes way beyond grant making. They have a prolific research program, which was the first of its kind in Rhode Island, focused on women and their economic, independent, political and social equality, housing and other issues that affect women's opportunities. 

They created the Women's Policy Institute, which is still running, which is a vehicle through which people can develop well-informed policy. They often advise policy development and they used to host an annual justice rally with compelling and inspirational speakers who challenged the status quo of women and hundreds of Rhode Islanders attend every year. So Simone and other women who were involved with the Women's Fund created this really special and unique organization which initiated and partnered with others to fight for gender equity by women and for women. So the Women's Fund has obviously benefited from philanthropy. And I'm not just talking about the donations they received and the grants they've distributed. But if you think about like the time, the energy and the commitment of the staff, the volunteers, the board committees, partners, colleagues, advocate, activists and fans, this has been a huge part of the fund's success. So, you know, they've gathered their tribe pretty well. So the Women's Fund of Rhode Island is this beautiful example of what I believe to be true deep, deep, deep in my heart, which is that all of us together are better than any one of us alone. We all have gifts to bring to the party. And I'm constantly learning from people I meet. And I'm just open to the idea that everybody is my teacher and that everybody has something they can contribute. So, you know, Simone knew that and she really understood the power of collaboration and partnership. And she understood that changing the world requires a systematic joint collaborative effort. And so the fund sums this up beautifully in their call to action. The playing field isn't level yet, but it could be with your help. Right.

Now there's over 120 Women's Funds in the United States and there is a growing network of local giving circles, which is organized by a nonprofit called Grapevine, called Women for Good. So I happen to be a member of Worcester Women for Good, and we raise money and donate it to small community based nonprofits who, for the most part, aren't eligible for other kinds of funding. We want to support community driven work. And so I would check out Grapevine and see if there's a giving circle or a women's fund in your area and get involved. So I wanted to share these examples of powerful changes that can be made with philanthropy that you would never know that World War II, space, the banking, the stock market, right? Like you would never know that that was helped by philanthropy. So this is why I love sharing these stories, because I think a lot of us just assume that a lot of these things were funded and done by the government. It was people and it was people with crazy ideas who believed in other people and got other people to believe in them that sent us to the moon, that improved the stock market. So like. It's not the government, it's us. Right. So I'm not saying the government doesn't do anything, but when it comes to innovative philanthropy, that's up to us. So we have to find the next Goddards, the next Cowlse, the next like, right. We need to find these people and support them because you never know when the next cure is around the corner and maybe it all takes is a couple of dollars from each one of us to make things happen. 

What would philanthropy make possible for your organization? What would be different if you were able to secure Guggenheim level of support? What does yours cloud commission looks like? What innovation lies in your future? What's your call to action? And what would be possible if you had the funding you need to accomplish your mission? And I know a lot of this sounds like a pipe dream, but in 2022, over $490 billion was donated to U.S. charities and 80% of that came from people. And I'm not talking about Bill and Melinda. I'm talking about people like you and me who proportionately give away more of our income than those at the upper income strata. So this means our donors are down the street, across town and around the corner. We just have to let go, knock on their door and invite them to join our cause. So what does your trip to the moon look like and how can I help you get there? 

Thanks for joining me today. And I'm super glad you were here. If you've got questions, drop me an email at Sarah S-A-R-A-H at Sarah B. Lange L-A-N-G-E dot com ([email protected]). And I will be back on September 21st at 1:15. And we have a special guest coming on. And I look forward to introducing you to him then. Thanks, everybody.

Thanks for tuning in. I'll be back in two weeks with another episode. Got topics you want me to cover? Organizations you want me to showcase? Let me know. Also, I'm here to help you revolutionize philanthropy at your nonprofit. If you want to talk about what that looks like, drop me an email.

You can watch the full episode on YouTube or listen to Spotify.


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