Opinion: Philanthropy can be yardstick for measuring city


How does one best go about selecting a city as the one to which you would move your family or your business? We are awed by skylines of tall buildings or major mixed-use complexes; we dream of professional sports teams or nationally acclaimed performing arts; we seek balanced seasons, and/or ease of centralized air travel, or a dozen more interests.

One index that deserves to be at the top is philanthropy — signs of giving offsetting that of taking. Show me a city that bears family names on libraries, hospitals, parks, and other pro bono operating facilities and I can safely predict it offers a quality of life that generates a happy environment. It’s where people measure success by what they share, not what they save.

In Atlanta, we have the good fortune of givers like billionaire Ted Turner challenging “B” fraternity brothers to contribute to diversified nonprofit entities for the benefit of those more in need. Long before his fame, my uncle Ben Massell was noted for the same philosophy (i.e. Massell Dental Clinic). And it doesn’t have to come just from the rich, for I recall in my own childhood soliciting dollars door-to-door for the annual Jaycees Empty Stocking Fund.

Our town has long provided opportunities at the top where men and women have earned ownership of residential mansions, resort second homes, fancy boats, and fast cars, but we must never look away from those much less fortunate who we can help. There are literally thousands of tax-exempt 501c3 nonprofits worthy of support, and any town that’s known for its charitable giving is a town worth knowing.

In fact, giving back to your fellow man is considered a cornerstone of good citizenship. Thus, civic service becomes a supplement to government and a substitute for taxation.

It was long ago I learned that a smile begets a smile, so now I predict a philanthropic philosophy can definitely attract even more of a giving reputation. Who can say what motivated Robert Smith to pledge some $40 million to Morehouse College grads as he passed through our city a couple of weeks ago?

Atlanta can be very proud too that a number of its business leaders stepped up to the plate recently to raise a goal of $90 million in contributions in Bernie Marcus’ name for his selection of beneficiaries in recognition of his 90th birthday. Would one imagine that at the birthday party this month, the donations totaled more than $117 million! What a wonderful legacy for Bernie and for Atlanta.

Let’s all salute this cause — philanthropy — and this procedure.

Sam Massell is president of The Buckhead Coalition and a former Atlanta mayor.