In a community with over 800 charities and non-profits, there is a great deal of turnover. They come and go, with some becoming icons while others disappear. So, when the desert’s first National Philanthropy Day event was announced nine years ago, it didn’t create much of a stir. It was presented by a newly formed local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Desert Chapter, and the first Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year honor went to Jim and Jackie Lee Houston in 2007. The crowd was relatively small and the program was, uh, not as well organized as this community expects.
What can happen in nine years!
This month’s well-organized NPD event was the largest ever (nearly 500 guests) and sold out weeks in advance. Registration was quick, dinner service was smooth, the speakers were entertaining and the parking was free. Best of all, the Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year award went to the modest, amazing, angelic JoAnn McGrath, prompting some of us to say, “It’s about time!”
McGrath, through her Highland Street Foundation, has donated more than $150 million to 900+ worthy non- profits over the past 25 years. Trained as a nurse, McGrath’s donations to Eisenhower Medical Center alone have amounted to over $12.5 million. Not surprisingly, it was the Eisenhower Foundation who nominated McGrath for the honor.
Philanthropist Harold Matzner (who was named Outstanding Philanthropist in 2010 was this year’s honorary chair and presenting sponsor. Matzner, Eisenhower’s Foundation president Michael Landes and Eisenhower’s Executive Vice President Martin Massiello all spoke highly of McGrath, thanking her for her generosity to the medical center. And the entire Coachella Valley.
Other major supporters were Bank of America, Peggy Cravens, Helene Galen, Eisenhower Medical Center, PS Art Museum, Union Bank and Madeline Zuckerman Marketing & Public Relations, Inc.
Media sponsors were Palm Springs Life, The Desert Sun Media Group, Money Radio 1200, Team 1010 KXPS, CBS Local 2, News Channel 3, CW Palm Springs, 5, Fox 11, and T15 Noticias Telemundo. Other participants were the presentation of colors and pledge of allegiance by the Cathedral City High School Air Force Junior ROTC, emcee Patrick Evans, and an invocation by Chaplain Tim Evans.
» Outstanding Philanthropist: Joann McGrath
» Outstanding Fundraising Volunteer: Michael Childers
» Outstanding Nonprofit Founder: Gloria Greer, ACT for MS (in memorial) » Outstanding Philanthropic Corporation: Eisenhower Medical Center
» Outstanding Philanthropic Foundation: The Community Foundation
» Outstanding AFP Fundraising Professional: Jan Hawkins
The event’s co-chairs were Andrea Spirtos, a major gifts associate at the McCallum Theatre and Ron Willison, major gifts manager at Desert AIDS Project. They carefully explained the extensive nominating and vetting process that goes into selecting each year’s nominees for these honors. ” In the nine year history of this chapter’s NPD, the number and quality of applications have been outstanding, making the task of the Blue Ribbon Committee a difficult one,” stated Spirtos. Willison also quoted Bob Hope, who once said, “If you haven’t got any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”
Eileen Packer, president of the local AFP CA chapter, also enlightened the audience about the importance of philanthropy in California saying, “California non-profits give over $17 Billion a year to those in need, and their volunteers provide more than $24.7 million in unpaid labor! We are honored to have Andrew Watt, President & CEO of Association of Fundraising Professionals in attendance today, paying tribute to six extraordinary Coachella Valley honorees, whose work, wealth, and wisdom are exceptional. They truly inspire friends, neighbors, businesses and foundations to “give back” and extend the circle of giving that enriches us all.”
Andrew P. Watt, president and CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, spoke on behalf of the international AFP association which serves more than 33,000 members in 244 chapters world- wide.