Opinion Columns & Blogs

Our new voting machines: The rest of the story

The story of Muscogee County’s new voting machines is a happy one: a win not only for voters in our community but in counties across Georgia (43 so far, and counting) who will benefit from passed-down machines that their counties can’t afford to purchase. And, like most happy stories, it’s a celebration of collaboration.

Nancy Boren, Muscogee County director of elections and registration, and Maigen Ogle, who moved last year from our voter registration office to that of Adams County (Denver), Colo., deserve huge rounds of applause for capitalizing on their relationship to bring about this fantastic opportunity.

And, of course, the people of Adams County are to be thanked for offering us their machines, recently made obsolete in their county by a shift to by-mail voting, for the grand sum of $10. Thanks to the state of Georgia and Richmond County, which pitched in on shipping; and to a $40,000 grant from our organization, the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley, to help pay the software licensing fees, Muscogee County has received $1.2 million worth of new and like-new equipment for a total cost of $16,000.

But there’s even more to this story, and it gives me a chance to illustrate how people use the foundation every day to make their communities better.

As reported in the Ledger-Enquirer, Nancy Boren let me know of this opportunity and asked for help in coming up with the amount needed for the software licensing in time to make the commitment to Adams County.

It was logical for her to come to the Community Foundation; our $120 million in assets has enabled us to make more than $22 million in grants this year. Those assets encompass 263 funds, many of which are grantmaking vehicles on behalf of families and individuals from all walks of life. Our mission is to enable and promote philanthropy that inspires, facilitates and fosters a vibrant and engaged Chattahoochee Valley; we exist to help people be generous easily and effectively. Many of you have heard me explain that we’re here to create “raging philanthropists.” Our donors, excited about the good they can do using us as their “back office,” give through us, not to us.

While this was certainly an unusual charitable opportunity, our board agreed that it offered us the chance to help bolster a fundamental pillar of democracy in our county and across the state. They set aside $5,000 from our Community Endowment Fund toward the effort.

This Community Endowment Fund is supported by scores of folks who want to give back in a way that’s permanent, helping provide funding in perpetuity to address issues that we may not even see at this point. Because the fund is in its early stages, our board frugally looks for opportunities to use the fund’s earnings to benefit broad projects in our community. Recent recipients include the Foundation Center’s Funding Information Network at the Columbus Public Library, which helps all nonprofits learn how to operate more efficiently and effectively; Home for Good, the City’s 10-year Plan to Eliminate Chronic Homelessness, which will advance our community in a myriad of ways; and the Regional Prosperity Initiative, a cross-sector, multi-county strategy to reduce poverty and increase prosperity for all (regionalprosperityinitiative.org).

The remaining $35,000 came from a group of people who agreed (instantly, I might add; everyone we reached out to said yes) that this quirky project presented too great an opportunity to pass up. Dan and Kathelen Amos, Bettye and Cecil Cheves, Gilbert Miller, and Alan Rothschild gave, respectively, through the Daniel P. and Kathelen V. Amos Fund, the Cecil and Bettye Cheves Fund, the Dreyden Fund, and the Fort Trustee Fund — all Donor Advised Funds at the Community Foundation. An additional friend of the community used a Donor Advised Fund here to contribute, and Jack Pezold chipped in directly to the Community Foundation. Collectively, these gifts got us to the $40,000 that Muscogee County needed to make the commitment to Adams County and snag the voting machines.

I share this “rest of the story” because it underscores the reality that we at the Community Foundation see every day: People here are generous. They believe in relationships, and they believe in working together to make our community better. They contribute not because they want credit but because they understand that by pitching in when there’s opportunity they can change the world.

You may not see new voting machines as the biggest charitable opportunity to come down the pike in the last decade. But the next time you vote, think about how a few generous people helped Muscogee County transform an investment of $16,000 into $1.2 million worth of benefit. What it would take to turn you into a “raging philanthropist?”

We’re ready when you are.

Betsy Covington is president & CEO of the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley, Inc.; www.cfcv.com.