By Thomas Manuel
From the ancient Greeks to Ben Franklin, Andrew Carnegie, George Clooney, Bill Gates, and countless individuals in between, philanthropy, a love for humanity and a desire to see it thrive, has been a common thread. It has been said that effective philanthropy requires a lot of time and creativity; the same kind of focus and skills that building a business requires. Miriam Beard once pointed out, “The results of philanthropy are always beyond calculation.”
Philanthropic giving is not just a phenomenon found in certain parts of the world, rather it is a spirit of giving back which is global. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain in speaking about philanthropy expanded that the best philanthropy is not just about giving money but giving leadership. The best philanthropists bring the gifts that made them successful — the drive, the determination, the refusal to accept that something can’t be done. These are the characteristics they invest into their philanthropy.
There are many reasons that drive and motivate philanthropy and not all are fueled by great passion for causes or humility. For every person that seeks anonymity there is another who desires their name be etched in stone. Regardless the motivation, our society at large has been beneficiary to philanthropic giving since the dawn of time.
Those of us in the arts tend to be especially in tune with the concept of patronage. Our forefathers such as Beethoven and Bach thrived upon such support and although terminology has evolved since their time, most artists would agree that it is a healthy combination of donors, grants, sponsors, and our regular concert going patrons who collectively produce our living.
Finding the correct way to properly thank a donor is about as easy as sneaking an elephant out of a circus tent! I recall inquiring once with a very special person, one who without his support so much of what both The Jazz Loft and my career has become would not have been possible, why he didn’t come to more events. He responded, “Do you really want to know why I don’t come to anything?” To which I replied, “Yes, I do!” To this he quickly quipped, “Because every time I show up you thank me!”
Over the years I’ve found joy in getting to know every individual that supports The Jazz Loft. I’ve truly enjoyed figuring out and discovering who finds appreciation in a letter, who welcomes a phone call, or who enjoys an annual summer lunch get together for a lobster sandwich and a beer. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of running a not-for-profit — getting to know amazing people, building real and genuine relationships, and forging what I know will be some lifetime friendships.
I was inspired to write this op-ed out of the desire to find a way to capture in words the gratitude I feel towards the philanthropists among us. Our community was literally designed and built by a philanthropist, Ward Melville. When I think of the names of those who have continued that bold tradition of giving and support, I resist sharing specific names, but suffice it to say you all know who they are even if you don’t know them personally.
Chances are you bought your house from them, or perhaps they’ve managed your retirement through the years. You might get your morning coffee from them or chat with them when you’re picking up your kid from school. They might volunteer or help run one of our many outstanding museums, art galleries, community institutions or preservation organizations. Maybe they fixed your car recently or you’ve bumped into them about town, at an outdoor concert, or in your favorite park. They’re quite often invisible, or as we say in Jazz, “tippin’ on the QT.”
What I do know is that no matter how little or how much in the spotlight or foreground they choose to be, these individuals are an incredible part of the fabric of who we are as a community. They are an invaluable resource, beyond definition, and without question an incredible gift to us all.
I consider it an honor and a privilege to serve our community in the positions and places I’ve been blessed to be and I’m inspired by those who are the philanthropists among us. To all of you out there, and you know who you are, THANK YOU!
Author Thomas Manuel, DMA is a Jazz historian, Artist in Residence at Stony Brook University, trumpet player and President and Founder of The Jazz Loft, 275 Christian Ave., Stony Brook. For more information, visit www.thejazzloft.org.