Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Support America's nonprofit heroes

By Wallis Annenberg, Special to CNN
November 30, 2012 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Annenberg: 2012 has reminded us of need for charities to help respond to disaster, chaos
  • She says nonprofit organizations are fulfilling vital needs around the world
  • She says they can't replace governments; problems outstrip their resources
  • Annenberg: Where nonprofits can shine is to focus on supporting the innovators

Editor's note: Wallis Annenberg is chairman of the board of the Annenberg Foundation. The Annenberg Foundation is providing training to this year's Top 10 CNN Heroes. "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute" airs live at 9 p.m. ET Sunday.

(CNN) -- From the pounding waters of Superstorm Sandy to a persistent global economic slowdown and continued chaos in the Middle East -- 2012 has been a year of enormous challenges. Even in a culture such as ours, which values charity, generosity and individual initiative, it's easy to feel helpless in the face of such crushing problems.

Thanks to "CNN Heroes," for all that's going wrong, we can also see powerful examples of what's going right. We can see the courageous, deeply committed women and men who are rolling up their sleeves and meeting our most pressing public needs all across the world.

Take Malya Villard-Appolon of Haiti, a rape survivor who has braved death threats to help heal thousands of other rape survivors.

Wallis Annenberg
Wallis Annenberg
Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Or Leo McCarthy of Butte, Montana, whose daughter's death at the hands of a drunken driver has led him to create college scholarships for those who abstain from alcohol until 21.

Or Razia Jan of Afghanistan, who is providing free education to hundreds of rural Afghani girls who had been denied it -- bucking a deeply entrenched culture as well as the hostile opposition of armed groups.

Nonprofit organizations at home and around the world are more than an inspiration. They are a vital lifeline for millions. Can we even imagine a national disaster such as Sandy without community groups to hand out food and fuel and emergency shelter?

Can we even comprehend how crowded and overtaxed our ERs would be without community health clinics to fill in the gaps in our health care system? Can we even fathom a world where most museums and art galleries and philharmonics had to shut their doors?

These kinds of quiet revolutions -- individuals standing up, banding together and making simple but profound changes in the way things are -- are happening all over the world.

CNN Hero changing the block
Kid Rock, CNN Hero surprise wounded vet
CNN Heroes: Leo McCarthy
Top 10 CNN Hero: Malya Villard-Appolon
CNN Heroes: Razia Jan
A fresh start for 'motel kids'

Some have made the argument that nonprofits play such a strong role that we can do without government's role in these same areas. I believe this is a misunderstanding of nonprofits' true purpose and importance.

The greatest philanthropic efforts are a drop in the bucket when you consider the scale of our problems. That's true even for the Annenberg Foundation, one of the top private philanthropies in the country. There's no way for us to say "we're falling behind in global reading and math scores; here's a check to solve that problem." We couldn't put enough zeros on a check to do it.

What we can do is something that government very often cannot. We can find and reward true innovation: People who are breaking new ground. New ways of helping kids to learn. New ways of providing housing and life skills to the homeless. New ways of expanding women's rights. New ways of exposing children to the joy and wonder of fine art. New ways of teaching the next generation of journalists about the power and risks of social media.

At the Annenberg Foundation, we have found that the most effective nonprofits are like the CNN Heroes -- organizations with strong and visionary leaders and a bold, new approach to getting the job done. Our hope is that in supporting them -- especially smaller nonprofits, still struggling to survive and to thrive -- we will help them get wider attention and become models across the world. Practically speaking, that's the only way we can begin to make a measurable difference.

That's why we are doing what we can to help the CNN Heroes themselves by providing training that we hope will strengthen their leadership and improve the scope and strength of their work. Our Annenberg Alchemy initiative has already trained 1,400 nonprofit leaders in this country -- helping them to run their organizations more effectively, raise millions more in crucially needed funds and communicate their needs and their goals more clearly and fully.

What does all of this mean for Americans who want to make a difference of their own?

It means you should recognize and support our 1.4 million nonprofits as generously as you can. It means you should look for newer and smaller nonprofits that are leading, experimenting and trying to change the way we solve our problems -- by other nonprofits and by government as well. And it means that among our many blessings this holiday season is a deeply ingrained tradition of caring individuals doing what they can to create a better, fairer, more just world.

Want more of them? All you have to do is join them.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Wallis Annenberg.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT