This week, the Montana All-Class State Wrestling Championships are being held at the Metra in Billings, and it marks the 50th anniversary of what I consider the most important lesson in my life.
As the board chair of the Montana Community Foundation, I have given more than just a few talks around the state about philanthropy. In each, I start out with one simple fact: I am a two-time loser — I lost the state wrestling championship in both my junior and senior years of high school.
Losing the title my junior year wasn't so bad. I would bet most people even felt I had exceeded expectations. My senior year, though, now that was a different story. I was expected to win. I expected myself to win. Unfortunately, a kid from Anaconda got in my way.
My only loss of the year, I took it really hard and was not very fun to be around for weeks. As I look back now, I recognize that not only was I not a good loser, but even worse, I wasn’t a good person either. At the time, I justified my actions by saying I had worked four years to achieve one goal, and in six minutes it was over. It was done. And it was never going to happen. I felt like I had failed.
It was my grandmother who finally helped me snap out of it. As we sat at the breakfast table after a handful of weeks of my continuous lament, she looked over at me and said, "You know, Butch" — she called me Butch — "a girl from Plevna won the State Beef Cook-Off!" I was probably numbingly absorbing her comment when my father interjected, "For crying out loud, Gramma, you can't compare a cooking competition with the state wrestling championships."
When I give my talks, it’s at this point in the story where I choke up and I croak out to my audience, "Actually, you can."
It took a nanosecond, maybe because I was ready, for me to realize that everyone has something that is very important to them, whether it be wrestling, cooking or catching butterflies. I will forever thank my grandmother for making it so obvious.
Lesson learned and many years later, I now make it a point to look through other people’s eyes. I want to know what is important to them. That is why my work, my belief and my faith in the community foundation concept is so important to me.
Community foundations let donors give the way they want to give and to whom they want to give. At a community foundation, whether it be MCF or one of the other 75 local community foundations across our state, you can establish a fund to benefit what’s important to you. You can create a fund to benefit one organization or a fund that benefits many organizations. And now with endowed funds, which are permanent, you can benefit those organizations forever, even long after you’re gone.
It doesn’t matter if you want to benefit wrestlers, chefs or folks who catch butterflies, the important thing is to put your generosity to work in a way that’s important to you and impactful for your community.