I was humbled and honored one year ago today to be asked by the Haitian Students Association (HSA) at the University at Albany to speak at their Memorial Service tonight for victims of the January 12th earthquake. The organization that I head (University Auxiliary Services at Albany) supported HSA and the entire UAlbany community’s response to this humanitarian crisis by matching gifts to the UAlbany Haiti Relief Fund up to $40,000. On the one-year anniversary of this moving event, I provide the text of my remarks below:
I want to speak with you briefly tonight about giving and about stories.
I’ve spent many years in the nonprofit sector, and know that fundraising is an art, a science, and a business. It’s hard work. The people who do it well know how to identify a need, craft a compelling story about that need, broadcast that story widely, find those potential donors whose personal interests resonate with that story, and then convince them to act on that resonance by making a donation to help meet the need.
It takes a lot of planning. It can take a long time. And the success rate can be very low, as people are bombarded from all sides with competing, worthy stories that often cancel each other out.
Sometimes, though, stories about need are so compelling that they tell themselves. The Haitian Earthquake of January 2010 is such a story.
I imagine most of us here sat riveted by televisions or computers as the earliest words and pictures began to leak out of a shattered nation in the hours after the earthquake. The sights and sounds we were exposed to, even from 1700 miles away, didn’t require anybody to craft a story and tell it to us. We got it. We understood.
I know for some here, the most tragic sound they heard in the days after the Earthquake was silence, as they waited for calls or e-mails confirming the health and safety of loved ones in Haiti. I also know for some here, those calls still haven’t come, and they never will.
President Woodrow Wilson said nearly a century ago that “There is no cause half so sacred as the cause of a people, and there is no idea so uplifting as the idea of the service of humanity.”
What was most remarkable to me in the days after the earthquake was watching the UAlbany community, including many of you in the room tonight, take up the cause of the Haitian people, rallying together around this idea of service of humanity.
Even as you grieved for lives lost, you began working to help the survivors look to the future.
Even as you wept at Haiti’s despair, you began working to provide hope.
Even as buildings tumbled and rubble was hauled away, you began working to help Haiti rebuild.
I’m very proud to be a UAlbany alumnus, and honored to work for you at UAS, but never have I been prouder of this University’s students, faculty, administration, alumni and staff as I have been while watching the response to the Haitian crisis over the past two weeks.
You, the University, are UAS’s only customer, and our sole mission is to improve the quality of life that you experience here. And I believe strongly that by supporting the UAlbany Haiti Relief Fund, UAS does improve the quality of life of each and every person associated with this campus. We are all better people for giving our time, treasures, and talents, whatever they may be, to provide such service to humanity.
If the world is truly to be within our reach, then we must willingly assume an obligation of responsibility and a duty of care for that world and its people. So the story I want to craft, and that I want everyone to hear, is the story of how the University at Albany accepted that responsibility and duty without pause or compromise.
The world is a better place in your hands tonight, Albany.