The GAWDA mission is to promote the safe operation and economic vitality of distributors of industrial gases and related welding equipment and supplies. The association carries this out in many ways, but central to the group’s effectiveness has always been an open sharing of ideas among its membership in support of each other. In 2000, GAWDA’s acting president, J. David Mahoney, and his wife, Donna, suggested that GAWDA might extend this notion of sharing to the communities that host their annual event, coining the initiative as GAWDA Gives Back. Nearly 20 years later, the program has donated over $2.3 million to local charitable causes.
Framed for Future Success
In addition to the continued generosity of its members, the enduring success of GAWDA Gives Back has a lot to do with the foundation that the Mahoney’s helped to establish so many years ago.
As readers know, GAWDA’s Annual Convention features a series of business meetings set in beautiful surroundings with time built into the schedule for people to enjoy what each locality has to offer. When David was planning for an especially nice event in Hawaii, Donna introduced the idea of leaving something positive behind. She reasoned that convention attendees enjoy all the benefits of the local resources and proposed a way to thank each host community in a meaningful way by supporting a local nonprofit. David agreed and lobbied his committee members, who unanimously voted to establish the annual GAWDA Gives Back charitable fund.
The vote was actually the easy part. Setting up a sustainable and effective process to raise and disperse funds required a very specific skill set. With a master’s degree in social work and experience in the community planning division of The New York Council of Nonprofits, Donna understood the ins and outs of how to effectively identify and support community-based nonprofits. She created the mission statement for GAWDA Gives Back, including the guidelines for safely choosing a charity. Donna also developed the timeline for each incoming president to follow and the process for choosing the recipient organization. So complete was her approach to establishing the GAWDA Gives Back program that Donna also drew up templates for press releases with guidance on how to notify and apprise local and state dignitaries of the gift for their communities. She even defined the process for the check presentation at the Annual Convention that both attendees and recipients have come to love.
At the time Donna was framing the program, the executive director at NYCON, who was a past president of the National Association of Planning Council board, noted that, as far as he knew, the GAWDA Gives Back program was the first of its kind for a national trade association. There was no model to follow. GAWDA was breaking new ground, and it was Donna’s expertise that enabled the group to set up the proper framework, which remains the basis of the program today.
Donna maintained her involvement with GAWDA Gives Back for at least five years after David’s term ended by assisting each president and their spouse in locating and vetting potential eligible nonprofits and to ensure safe giving practices remained in place. She also ensured that the GAWDA Gives Back donation was gifted in alignment with required federal government practices when the GAWDA convention was held in the Bahamas.
The Trajectory of Giving
Once the ground rules were established, the next hurdle was organizing the fundraising effort. David Mahoney took this on in a big way, personally calling on members to make sure there was plenty of support for the new program. In its first year, GAWDA raised over $36,000 for the Maui Adult Day Care Centers and the Hawaii Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations. David continued to lead the fundraising efforts for many years thereafter. His steadfast support of GAWDA Gives Back was considered so important that in 2009, eight years after its founding, he received the GAWDA Award of Excellence for his role in developing this program.
To the credit of its membership, the level of giving has steadily risen over the years. To date, the program has donated over $2.3 million to 27 local charities. The organization continues to introduce new ways to build support, including the ability to contribute to GAWDA Gives Back when members register for the annual meeting.
Embracing the Program
The president-elect and his/her spouse select the charity(s) each year under the guidance of the GAWDA Gives Back framework. David reported, “Every incoming president has embraced the program, often choosing charities that are meaningful in some personal way to them. They all become well acquainted with the chosen charity’s mission, and this enables them to become great advocates for raising funds.”
Most recently, Ned Lane, GAWDA’s 2017 – 2018 president, and his wife JoAnn, had the honor of selecting the charities. Lane described the process as a humbling one: “We researched nonprofits while in Seattle at our planning meetings, often asking local people what groups were best at addressing Seattle’s needs. When we met with charities to discuss possible support, they were all extremely grateful and often very surprised that an out-of-town association had an interest in helping a local nonprofit. GAWDA Gives Back is a really unique program in that regard.” As the Lanes discovered, Seattle has a very large homeless problem, with low-wage earners being severely impacted by the city’s escalating real-estate market. One of the charities they chose was Mary’s Place, which provides housing for families that are struggling.
Personal connections often steer the planning committee to worthy programs. A close friend of the Lanes’ had a very positive experience with a Ronald McDonald House, which led them to look into that organization. The Ronald McDonald House in Seattle supports seriously ill children and their families and has its own local budget. Their facility, which serves over 450 families annually, was in need of a new commercial kitchen. “We thought helping to make that capital improvement happen would be a wonderful way for GAWDA to serve this community,” reported Lane.
Dianna Finnerty, executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities Western WA & AK, said their group was thrilled to receive this year’s donation and surprised by its generous amount. She reports the money is currently earmarked for a commercial kitchen to serve dinner groups in their Seattle facility.
This year, Brad Peterson, current GAWDA president, and his wife Gaby, will be reviewing charities that serve Washington, D.C. Peterson anticipates it will be hard to choose from many worthy causes. “GAWDA Gives Back looks to work with grassroots organizations where we can make a meaningful impact. Ideally we would like to fund a capital need for an ongoing organization that is otherwise self-sustaining,” Peterson said.
Raising the Bar
“It is the sincere dedication to sharing our good fortune with others that drives the continued success of GAWDA Gives Back,” related David Mahoney, “and it’s been a team effort, with both supplier and distributor members being generous contributors.”
As an example, Eleet Cryogenics has sponsored a special fundraising effort for the GAWDA Gives Back program for many years. Gary Sears, Eleet’s president, and Doug Morton, vice president of sales, began with the auction of a cryogenic bulk tank to support this program at a GAWDA Regional Meeting in Gettysburg 10 years ago. That event has grown over time and today, in addition to the Eleet tank, the Gettysburg auction includes many other goods and services donated by both individuals and companies. Morton estimates that this fundraiser has generated well over $15,000 each year.
“We are grateful to be able to have hosted this event for so many years,” Morton related. “There is a lot of great networking and information presented at this meeting, but the GAWDA Gives Back auction is always the highlight. When it’s over, I call my wife on the way home and ask her to guess how much money was raised. We try to outdo ourselves every year!”
Bob Roberts, president and CEO of Roberts Oxygen, believes the program that David and Donna Mahoney initiated truly highlights the values of GAWDA members, and he likes that it is easy to immediately understand and support. Commenting on the success of the program, Roberts related: “The charities chosen by the GAWDA president and spouse are always organizations that are doing tremendous work for people in need in the host city. Their work, effort and results are amazing. The constant increase in the giving amount from inception to the level where it now stands is confirmation of the importance and support that GAWDA members put into this program.”
The 27 charities supported by GAWDA Gives Back represent the spectrum of need across the country — from helping the very young and the very old, to assisting the sick and those recovering from illness, to supporting those in service to our country and the families coping with their absence.
In 2011, GAWDA Gives Back had a landmark fundraising year, taking in nearly $200,000 in donations. Then GAWDA president Lloyd Robinson reported, “That year our annual convention was held in New York City. It was the 10th anniversary of 9/11, so the GAWDA Gives Back program was an ideal way for many to mark the occasion in a meaningful way.”
The FDNY Fire Family Transport Foundation was one of the charities Robinson chose. “The injured first responders had medical coverage for healthcare, but often there was no mechanism for them to get to their doctor’s appointment. With GAWDA Gives Back funding, the Foundation was able to purchase a transport van to get patients to their medical providers,” Robinson explained.
GAWDA presidents often select charities that strike a special chord personally. The other charity Robinson chose in 2011 was the PENCIL Fellows Program, which AWISCO had participated in. At the time, pencil.org was a relatively new program that was developing a network of education and business professionals to work together to improve student outcomes. In the case of the PENCIL Fellows Program, the “giving” has worked both ways for Robinson and his team. He explained, “We bring in juniors from New York City public high schools who are often the first in their family to be on track to graduate from high school. We mentor them on how to sit for an interview, write a resume, be part of a work environment, etc. We also participate in PENCIL’s summer internship programs for 16- to 17-year-old students. Most of these kids go on to college, but in between high school and college graduations they are often found in our employ while they work their way through school. The PENCIL relationship has been a rewarding one for AWISCO.”
In 2008, GAWDA Gives Back provided the funds to keep a mobile medical service operating that served nine rural communities in Osceola County, Florida. Sue Ring, associate director of community vision, remembered GAWDA fondly and was excited to let us know that the Mobile Medical Express has grown to become a free, permanent health clinic. Today that facility serves approximately 2,250 clients a year and is vital to serving the local community’s most vulnerable. Ring explained that GAWDA funding many years ago was a big part of enabling this service to continue and expand.
And what of the first recipient, Adult Day Care Centers of Maui? Eighteen years later, GAWDA’s donation is still appreciated and in use, according to Executive Assistant Margie Bela Cruz, who has been with the organization for 24 years. She reported, “In 2000, the Center was in the process of settling into a brand-new facility, and GAWDA’s donation helped us buy furnishings. Today, the group operates four facilities on Maui and continues to serve the region’s seniors.”
As all annual meeting attendees will attest, the GAWDA Gives Back award ceremony is always the highlight of each convention. Ned Lane related: “I have watched these awards being given out for many years and am always amazed at how grateful — and surprised — the recipients are of our donations. The thank you’s just keep coming.”
Lane continued, “GAWDA Gives Back is a wonderful way for our association to show our appreciation to convention host cities, but it is also serves to unite our membership in a very unique way. Distributors and suppliers rally all year to raise funds for this cause. It’s not the association that makes this program great, but the individual members who make the contributions.”
Bob Roberts agreed and added: “Any contribution from an association member, however small or large, helps bond us together and showcases our association and industry.”