Op-Ed: What philanthropy is all about on Martha’s Vineyard

Op-Ed: What philanthropy is all about on Martha’s Vineyard

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July 8 was Philanthropy Day on Martha’s Vineyard. Proclaimed by Dukes County, it’s a day to honor everyone, seasonal and year-round, for the tremendous amount of time and money you donate to keep the Vineyard and its nonprofits running. We salute and thank all of you for giving back. You play a major role in keeping this a special place.

Philanthropy Day is also an opportunity to step back to look at the condition of the Island and reflect on your own Vineyard Philanthropy. We are at a critical point regarding the Island’s future as many of the things that make the Vineyard special and draw us here are succumbing to growth and development. The ongoing need is great.

The 2010 census data shows that although our rate of growth dropped significantly from the previous decade, we are still the fastest growing county in the state.We are also aging at a rapid rate and are about to see a wave of baby boomers turn their summer homes into their retirement homes.

The water quality of our coastal ponds continues to be a headline story — 13 out of 21 are over their nitrogen limits and on their way to becoming odorous, algae-filled, and devoid of fish and shellfish.

Our town centers are losing their traditional character while suburban sprawl and traffic are increasing; we’re losing that small-town feel. Housing continues to be an issue. Home values have been driven up and are some of the highest in the country, and housing costs are consuming a bigger and bigger share of the year-round Vineyarder’s household income.

We saw record levels of unemployment again during the winter months and record levels of support provided by our food pantry. Community Services’ mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence programs all experienced significant increases in demand as well.

The Vineyard has a significant nonprofit community that is working to address these and other issues. How significant? They account for 13 percent of the Island’s GDP; that’s more community support than the six Island towns combined. They also address a broad range of interests and needs. In fact, almost everything you love about the Vineyard is protected, maintained, or made possible by Island nonprofits.

Some work directly to preserve our scenic vistas, open spaces, coastal ponds and historic charm. Others contribute to our thriving arts scene or offer wonderful educational, cultural, and recreational activities for the whole family. The rest support the local community, the people who run our towns, shops, and restaurants, build and maintain our homes, and offer the broad array of services and experiences we come here to enjoy. The Vineyard is the way it is because of the components of the local community and cannot be sustained if they can’t be sustained.

Some people are surprised that a community our size has so many nonprofits but, being on an Island four miles at sea, we can’t easily share resources with neighboring communities, so we must have our own organizations. Plus, our isolation requires that we have certain institutions, like a hospital, that no mainland community our size could support alone.

We applaud Dukes County for establishing Philanthropy Day and helping people appreciate the important connection between philanthropy and the future of the Vineyard. The Island’s nonprofits play a key role in sustaining the Vineyard, protecting and maintaining, for ourselves and future generations, those features of the Island and Island life we all cherish. Their success, however, is dependent on having the significant philanthropic resources needed to do the job.

To inform philanthropy and help people understand the issues that must be addressed if we are to preserve the Vineyard, the Donors Collaborative produced a 26-page, fact-based report called “Understanding the Vineyard.” It’s an invitation to understand the issues we face and meet the organizations working to address them. It’s a detailed examination of what’s at risk, what must be done and who is involved.

“Understanding the Vineyard” has an easily recognizable cover containing just the title and a self-portrait sketch of a contemplative Jules Feiffer. Copies are available at any branch of the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, most Island libraries, and from many Island nonprofits or at their events. You can also download a copy from our website: www.mvdonors.org. If you end up with more than one, please pass a copy on to someone you think should understand more about the Vineyard.

We encourage you to get a copy and learn about the issues that affect what you love most about the Vineyard and then decide how you want to give back. We hope it will start conversations, create solutions, and, most importantly, generate the investment needed.

Peter Temple is the executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Donors Collaborative.

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