September 14, 2020


Community Makes The World (and You) Better

By: Peter Lipsett

People crave community.

We instinctively put labels on ourselves to show our inclusion in certain groups. We even put labels on others to help us understand our differences. This division into smaller groups offers us connection and gives each of us permission to be ourselves. Shriners in small cars and Green Bay Packer fans donning cheese hats can let go of any self-consciousness when surrounded by others just like them.

This isn’t new. Alexis de Tocqueville, in his grand American tour in the 1830s, marveled at the American inclination toward joining in groups of all sorts, “associations of a thousand…kinds, religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive.”

We’re worse off, in fact, when we shy away from these instincts toward community.  Sociologist Robert Putnam’s seminal work Bowling Alone called attention to the dangerous drift away from that American identification as a nation of joiners.  Tocqueville saw our need to connect in groups as part of the human condition:

Among the laws that rule human societies there is one which seems to be more precise and clear than all others. If men are to remain civilized or to become so, the art of associating together must grow and improve in the same ratio in which the equality of conditions is increased.

Community and Charity
This search for community drives our call toward charitable giving as well.  

My local community foundation, the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia, launched a COVID-19 Response Fund to deal with the various ways the pandemic hurt the region. With its localized knowledge, it moved fast, pumping out its first grants by March 20, at the end of the first week of the area’s shut down. 

In all, the Foundation gave away $2.1 million to address food insecurity, mental health, medical supplies, and, in later grant rounds, racial trauma and diversity. Those funds came from the community of funders who use the Foundation and others in the region.

Similar examples popped up across the country. It’s a cycle that repeats whenever there is a crisis. When tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods strike, people bind together through financial contributions to help victims they’ll never see.

Why do we do it? The connection and bond people felt to their geographic community led to an outpouring of philanthropy. In the cases of those more far-flung crises, we are connected by a larger community, one that reminds us that we could one day face similar challenges. 

Community foundations act as a place for charity-minded people to come together in support of their local area.  The community foundation acts as the connector to these people.  Some of those people may operate more independently and some may be more out-front, but all of them can point to being a part of this group of like-minded folks committed to supporting the nearby civic, cultural, and recreational activities. 

A Community Foundation for Liberty
A true community offers intrinsic value. It offers the ability to, in person or in spirit, place you among a group of people that truly understands you. We need community for more than human aid, though. We need it to grow and develop our ideas and to grow ourselves.

Creating this community is one of the reasons America’s Future is so important. From happy hours to writing courses to volunteer days, AF serves as a convener for what can, in some places, feel like a disparate community of liberty-minded thinkers. In coming together, we make ourselves better, make our neighborhoods better, and strengthen our ideas.

My own organization does this on the charitable side. DonorsTrust clients come together around not a locality, but a mentality. We serve as a community foundation of ideas – core principles of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise.  

Be a Joiner
Many feel alone in their beliefs and crave the community groups like AF and DonorsTrust offer.  

During a dinner meeting at a restaurant in a liberal enclave near Chicago, one such couple lowered their voices when the conversation turned to advancing liberty-minded policy ideas so as not to be overheard.  They told me how happy they were to have found DonorsTrust, because even though the people in the area where they live didn’t share their principles, they knew we did.

 “The Americans,” Tocqueville said, “make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes… If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society.”

The communities we join allow us to foster and inculcate our truths. Find a community that shares your beliefs. Find a group that will let you be you. There are myriad groups in your area to connect you to the community around you. For finding a community of those who think like you do, America’s Future is there. To grow your charitable giving to build a community of liberty, DonorsTrust offers its Novus Society for younger donors to support their efforts to engage, connect them to other givers, and help them create an impact.

Above all, be a joiner. It’s the best way to make that great example, whether to rebuild a town, cheer a sports team to victory, or preserve liberty for the next generation.