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
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT