It has been one week since I returned home from the hectic and frenzied culminating week of the Chase American Giving Awards. As many of you know, we didn’t win the $1million. It wasn’t for lack of effort or grassroots support. I knew going into this contest that we might not win, but I also knew that we had given it everything, and that I would go home feeling proud of our team no matter what.I never wanted to be a fundraiser. I do work that I love and believe in, and I raise the money we need to keep our program running. Over the past few years, my integrity has been put to the test a couple of times (a foundation might have funding for us, if only we can shift our mission slightly). It can be tempting, but I have always believed that if we have to change ourselves to fit into someone’s funding criteria, then it’s not a good fit. I believe that that there are enough resources to go around and enough like-minded, generous people who will step up to keep our school running, to be a part of building the first school for refugees in the U.S.And then I received a phone call from the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation saying that we were 1 of 25 charities selected to compete for a $1 million prize. Jumping ahead in my mind to what $1 million would do for the Fugees Academy, I agreed to take part in the competition. $1 million would have the perfect way to jump start our capital campaign. $1 million would have been enough to get us onto our land for the next school year. Sadly, the chance at $1 million was also enough to make me willing to bend ourselves, to compromise our integrity.I agreed, didn’t take a step back to consider what that meant. We threw ourselves into it, staff and volunteers giving 100%. We worked long hours, mobilized people around the country and the world. We lived and breathed in Facebook status updates, Twitter tweets, and Instagram likes. We heard of others doing the same: people we had never met before, people who signed up for Facebook just so they could vote for us, people who rallied their campuses and workplaces and coffee shops—all so that the Fugees could win this contest, and finally get the school they deserve. As great as it was to see all of this support, I had a nagging feeling that something was not right. It felt like we were vying for first prize in a popularity contest. Trying to “get the most likes”. Charity should not be a competition. But with so much already invested in the process, there was no turning back.Voting ended and Chase flew us out to California. It was the circus I expected it to be. Fancy dinners, hotels, events, talk of what everyone would be wearing to the awards show. The thing is, I met a lot of inspirational people. Humble people. People doing work they believe in. Organizations that were in the same position we were in, stretching their resources thin to be a part of this because they couldn’t afford not to.The Chase people insisted that we all submit acceptance speeches for them to preview, just in case we won. This is an excerpt of what I submitted:
We need this $1million to start building our school. But I also know that every organization here has put in so much work and so many resources into this and they are just as deserving as we are. So what I propose is that we are all winners, that all 25 of us share in the $2 million.