It’s Nice to be Nice

April 11, 2012

I got my first lesson on giving in L.A. unexpectedly and from a surprising source – my step grandparents, Grandma Willie and Grandpa John.

I was in my late 20’s, they were in their early 80’s.  They would call me once a month or so asking if I’d come for a visit.  They’d welcome me in, feed me a down home meal, and then we’d get down to business.  I was their bill-payer.  They’d hand me their checkbook and a short stack of bills – utilities, for the most part.  Then they’d give me condolence cards, and instruct me to write a warm, sympathetic message and enclose a check for $15 in each one.

When I asked them what the money was for, Grandpa John would say he knew the grieving family was stretched by funeral expenses and needed “just a little help”.  And Grandma Willie always chimed in with her familiar “It’s nice to be nice.”  Sitting in their very modest, but proud home in South L.A., I learned the lesson of philanthropy.  Since then, I have had many occasions to observe what motivates giving in L.A..

Giving in L.A. happens everyday, at foundations, in boardrooms, in churches, and at kitchen tables.  Yet, despite my grandparents example and the many “everyday givers” who heed the call for help, our city of angels falls short of its fair share of local Angelenos giving to local causes.   We give to out-of-town alma maters, or we give to tsunami relief, or we send money to family living outside of the U.S. – all deserving causes.   What we may not realize, though, is that we are net exporters of philanthropic dollars!  Let charity start at home – not a cliché, but a call to action – my fellow angels!

Take a close look at my fair city, and consider bringing more resources to this region.  Let me show you an L.A. that is easy to digest and hard to resist.   Let me take you across the bridge over the L.A. River (yes, we have one) to historic Boyle Heights – home to vivid murals and vibrant examples of economic development.   Let me take you to South L.A. – a place you saw burning 20 years ago, now blooming with charter schools.  Let me show you the San Fernando Valley, ground zero for uninsured residents waiting for health reform and a huge population of returning service men and women.  Let me take you to Pomona, a funky little city with a bubbling arts culture and a world-class state university.   I could go on and on.   L.A. County, home to 11 million people, encompassing 88 cities and 19,000 active nonprofits – my hometown and a place where we still know “it’s nice to be nice”.

I want to also shout out to my fellow funders, especially those in New York, Chicago, Baltimore, San Francisco.  You know who you are.  I hope you’re all coming to LA for the 2012 Council on Foundations Annual Conference.

Thanks for reading,
Nike Irvin
VP of Programs, CCF

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