By Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund International President & CEO
To commemorate ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we invited the leaders of each of the 12 ChildFund Alliance member groups to reflect on the past and future of their own organizations and the Alliance. Today, we hear from Anne Goddard.
“Nothing ever lasts forever,” the old saying goes. I find this applies to all kinds of things in life. So, as we celebrate ChildFund’s 75th year, I am mindful that not all nonprofits and for-profit companies have longevity. I’ve read that the lifespan of successful companies is shrinking – the typical company in existence today will be out of business in 15 years.
Since the recession started six years ago, I know of several nonprofits that have had to close their doors. Some closed due to financial and other problems. Others took a very positive step and merged with similar organizations to more effectively deliver on their missions. None closed because their mission had been achieved.
ChildFund International is still thriving after 75 years. I give a lot of the credit to our founder, Dr. J. Calvitt Clarke. He was a man of vision, with a passion for helping children living in poverty. A strategic thinker, Clarke was often described as having a “knack for fundraising.” At the age of 51, he founded an organization that was built to last.
Most people would be surprised to learn that Dr. Clarke established our organization to help children in China, now a world superpower with an economy envied by many. China pulled (and pushed) 680 million people out of poverty from 1981 to 2010, and has reduced its extreme-poverty rate from 84 percent to 10 percent, according to the Economist.
But the China of 1938 was very different than today. The country was devastated after the second Sino-Japanese war; famine, atrocities and bombings had destroyed the lives of millions. Children, being the most vulnerable, suffered the most. An estimated 1 to 2 million children died from 1937 to 1940 in China.
Compelled to fight for children’s survival, Dr. Clarke believed that warm-hearted, generous Americans would help. So he established what was then known as China’s Children Fund. Within six months of start-up, the organization raised enough funds to send its first support to China – $2,000. Within a year, $13,000 was sent to the KuKong Orphanage to help care for children.
Even the onset of World War II did not stop CCF and Dr. Clarke from continuing the mission. By the final year of the war in 1945 – a mere eight years after the organization began – CCF sent the amazing sum of $372,217 to China to help children in the areas not occupied by Japan.
In 1949, when the Communists came to power, CCF was forced to abruptly leave the country and end its assistance to the 5,113 Chinese children it was caring for in dozens of orphanages. The fate of most of those children was never known. But, amazingly, 280 children managed to walk 60 miles, crossing the border into Hong Kong, then under British rule, where they eventually went to live in a new orphanage CCF established.
Just as China is different today than in the 1930s and ’40s, ChildFund is different in many respects from the days of China’s Children Fund. We have grown to be a $250 million organization that helps 18.1 million children and family members in 30 countries around the globe. We’re also a member of the ChildFund Alliance, 12 like-minded organizations working together to expand our reach to more countries. Our collective commitment to helping children remains as passionate as ever.
But because nothing lasts forever, I never take for granted that ChildFund will continue for another 75 years. The decisions we make today will impact the ChildFund of tomorrow. We must continue to evolve as an organization, meeting the needs of children in a rapidly changing and complex world.
Maybe one thing does last forever – the warm-hearted generosity of people who help children living in poverty. That part of our shared humanity is truly enduring.