October 27, 2003

Why give? To feel good

Kent Alexander, senior vice president and general counsel, is chair of the 2003–04 Emory-Gives campaign.

So why do I participate in EmoryGives, and why am I gung ho about it?

Helping the less fortunate? Fulfilling a moral mandate? Satisfying a spiritual calling. I suppose all those reasons apply, but the overriding reason may be simpler and far less cerebral.

Giving makes me feel good.

The "feel good" possibility hit home for the first time when President Jim Wagner and I recently were drafting the annual EmoryGives letter to the community. Sitting in the president’s office overlooking the Quad on a sunny fall day, we focused on the campaign.
We talked about how a dollar in one person’s pocket might be worth a thousand dollars to someone else. We talked about the concept of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. We even talked about tax advantages come April 15.

We also talked about how nice it would be for the Emory community to invest generously in the larger community—just as the University continually asks that larger community to invest millions and millions of dollars in us.

But then President Wagner said, "You know, when you get right down to it, I just give because it makes me feel good."

There was no clap of thunder. No rousing symphonic awakening from Beethoven’s Fifth. Not even a slight flicker of the fluorescent lights overhead. But I did have a charitable epiphany of sorts: It struck me that I probably give for the very same reason.

I decided to test the feel-good theory by looking back at my own charitable involvement through the years.

While a kindergartner on campus at Glenn School, I looked forward to carrying around the little orange UNICEF box on Halloween night to collect coins along with candy. In high school and college, friends and I delighted in volunteering for the Empty Stocking Fund drives to brighten up someone’s Christmas; for "bathtub drives" to raise money for sickle cell anemia and other disease research; and for the Special Olympics to help athletes cross the finish lines; and the list goes on.

Later, in 1989 a few friends and I had a vision to make volunteering easier by creating a network of volunteers to match with a network of volunteer opportunities. The 12 of us called ourselves Hands On Atlanta and recruited more friends to join us on Saturday mornings in soup kitchens, reading programs, AIDS projects and the like.

By 1991 we needed money to grow the organization and decided to launch Atlanta’s first large-scale "servathon." After a lot of planning, we slated Oct. 26 for the first annual Hands On Atlanta Day. When the day finally arrived, we nervously waited to see who would come to our party.

To our amazement, some 2,000 people showed up, all having agreed to volunteer at least four hours apiece. That meant Hands On Atlanta not only raised quite a bit of money but organized more than 8,000 community service hours in a single day.

Those numbers have grown steadily every year. Earlier this month, the 13th annual Hands On Atlanta Day attracted about 14,000 volunteers, and the organization’s year-round base of volunteers now tops 25,000. And, as of last year, Hands On Atlanta became one of many EmoryGives beneficiaries.

Oddly, through all my years of volunteering, I never gave much thought to why I and so many of you reflexively give of our time and money, nor did I spend any time wondering why I said "yes" without a moment’s hesitation when asked to chair this year’s EmoryGives campaign.

Now I realize that giving, indeed, just makes me feel good.

EmoryGives embodies everything good about giving and makes giving, as well as some volunteering, easy. All you do is fill out a form to have a few dollars (or more!) a week contributed through payroll deduction, or write a check to the charity of your choice.

There are six charitable partners and 445 giving opportunities in all, including nonprofits that support people afflicted with every manner of disease, improve our challenged environment, address the scourge of domestic violence, and help at-risk youth remain on the right path.

I think anyone would find it impossible to look at the full list and not say, "You know, I’d feel pretty good about giving to that."

To help make us feel even better about giving, EmoryGives and Parisian have lined up a holiday shopping and "Welcome President Wagner" party from 6–9 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 16, at Parisian Phipps Plaza. If you want to say hello to our new president and save a lot of money on holiday shopping at the same time, it doesn’t get any better than this.

For just a $5 ticket, you will get 20 percent off almost everything you want to buy in any metro Atlanta Parisian store, and at the Phipps Plaza location you can also get free alterations, hors d’oeuvres, beverages, makeovers and gift wrap. President Wagner plans to be at Phipps from 7–8 p.m., and every half-hour you will have a chance to win a $500 shopping spree. All proceeds from ticket sales go to EmoryGives.

Though the party will be a lot of fun, the best part of EmoryGives, of course, remains personally feeling good about making gifts that help others. If you do not come from a culture of charitable involvement, you may be surprised how good you will feel making a difference in the lives of others who are in far more need than you or me.

This year, EmoryGives is looking to raise $425,000 from at least 10 percent of our employees. "Emory Angels" who give $1,000 (and often much more) are recognized for doing a lot to help us reach that goal, but we cannot reach it without support at all levels, so I hope you will give at whatever level your heart and budget permit.

Everything you need to know about EmoryGives can literally be found at your fingertips at http://emorygives.emory.edu/ or by contacting EmoryGives director Michelle Smith at 404-727-4771 or amsmith@emory.edu.

People often say give until it hurts. This year I hope everyone will give until it feels good—really good. If we all do that, we will very easily meet and exceed this year’s goal and be all the better as individuals and a community for the experience.