Advancing Philanthropy

Photo-Essay: Nonprofits Emerge: A Centennial Perspective

Nonprofits Emerge: A Centennial Perspective

Photo credit: Pritzker Military Museum & Library

It is a saying of remembrance: “Lest we forget.” The United States and our World War I allies have not forgotten those men and women who served and the 116,516 who perished in World War I. The number of casualties was more than from the wars in Korea and Vietnam combined, but it is a mere fraction of the overall 9 million killed during the four-year conflict that engulfed 36 countries. As fundraisers, let’s never forget the importance of joining in our nation’s commemorative efforts honoring those men and women.

oh boy that's the girl posterWhy remember? On April 16, 1917, at 12:18 p.m., President Wilson signed the U.S. declaration of war. The war ended 391 days later, on Armistice Day (Nov. 11, 1918). World War I prompted innovations in medicine, geopolitics and social relations. The Great War changed warfare and redrew maps from Europe to the Middle East, as well as the position of the United States in the world. Its influence on the women’s movement still resonates today.

Volunteerism surged. Americans got involved by distributing food, clothing and medicine to soldiers and civilians in Belgium and France. They drove ambulances, operated field hospitals and steered relief trucks. Some served as soldiers or pilots in the French and British armies. The American Red Cross sprang into action by deploying “The Mercy Ship,” carrying 170 surgeons and nurses who were being sent to Europe to provide medical relief for combat casualties on both sides of the war. As the honorary chairman, President Wilson urged Americans to support the work of the Red Cross by volunteering to meet the needs of the thousands of young men serving on the battlefields of Europe.

Another demonstration of patriotism and compassion for the doughboys was the forethought of two young women, Helen Purviance and Amy Owen Bradley. Purviance, an ensign in The Salvation Army, made thousands of doughnuts daily to comfort the homesick soldiers stationed in France. Amy Owen Bradley, from Boston, began organizing Americans living in London to make “comfort bags” for the wounded French soldiers and provide recreation for the American soldiers through the YMCA. These two women, along with the thousands of American men who enlisted in the French military, were the catalyst for a massive volunteer mobilization when the United States joined the Allies overseas.

red cross postersBusiness magnates Carnegie and Rockefeller began to heavily lobby state legislators for charitable tax laws to support their philanthropic endeavors in grant-making and charitable giving.

Many of today’s nonprofits have roots in World War I, such as The American Legion, chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veteran’s organization which focuses on service to veterans, service members and communities; Disabled American Veterans, a service organization dedicated to support the men and women who are wounded in war; and the American Civil Liberties Union, whose stated mission is “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

Lessons of the Past

As fundraisers, there is an opportunity for us to look to the past and extend our gratitude to our valorous predecessors who defined our core practices and established ethical guidelines that we still embrace today for the fundraising profession. We revel in the pride of knowing our targeted efforts to raise necessary funds sustain the vital missions of the estimated 1.41 million nonprofit organizations in the United States. We stand proud as Americans, as humanitarians and as fundraisers, knowing that we connect to the world by telling the stories of our nonprofit organizations with pride. Together, let’s continue the legacy of volunteerism established during World War I by encouraging current and upcoming generations to engage in local, regional and international service. In this volatile political and economic climate, it is our infectious passion and enthusiasm that propel the fundraising community at large to try innovative techniques to engage and connect individuals who understand the importance of sustaining organizations for higher education, along with services for the sick and underserved.

Continue the Commemoration

I ask you to join me and the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, the founding sponsor of the United States World War One Centennial Commission, as we continue to plan, develop and execute programs, projects and activities to commemorate the Great War. Each state has a World War I commemorative organization. These volunteer organizations are executing programs and activities locally to highlight the heroic contributions of those who served.

Lest we forget, it is a time not only to reflect on the past but also to honor the tradition of our pioneer fundraising predecessors who paved the way for us. Wear your meritorious sense of valor in continuing the work that creates public value for all.

Nonprofits Emerge, A Centennial Perspective


Susan Mennenga MPA, CFRESusan Mennenga MPA, CFRE is WWI Centennial Project Manager at the Pritzker Military Museum & Library.  She served as Vice President of Development at Presence Health Mercy Medical Center, and was recognized by Ascension Health for Innovation in Philanthropy, She was assistant dean for development at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health. She holds a B.A. in marketing from DePaul University and an MPA in nonprofit management from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a certified AFP Master Trainer and teaches nonprofit strategic management at Aurora University.

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