Get smart, give more

Peter Ueberroth calls for support of the Idaho Community Foundation

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Former Chairman of the United States Olympic Committee and National Baseball League Commissioner, Peter Uebberoth, speaks about the changes going on the country during an Idaho Community Foundation luncheon Thursday at the Coeur d'Alene Resort.

COEUR d'ALENE - Peter Ueberroth was the guy who ran the 1984 Olympics.

He was the commissioner of Major League Baseball from 1984 to 1989.

He has been Time Magazine's Man of the Year and was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science in 2004.

So what did he say Thursday when he explained why he was the keynote speaker of the Idaho Community Foundation's first regional luncheon in Coeur d'Alene?

"I was asked because I know a little bit about charity and I'm not very smart," he said as the crowd of 250 chuckled at The Coeur d'Alene Resort.

His story went that the LA Times wasn't thrilled that a guy from the San Fernando Valley who ran a travel agency was selected to run the '84 games in Los Angeles, and "wanted to know more about him."

The paper later reported he graduated in the top 83 percent of his class at San Jose State University and even published a probation form Ueberroth had filled out.

"They circled one little area to prove this guy wasn't very smart who was going to take on the Olympic Games," Ueberroth said. "Evidently under the heading 'church preference,' I'd written in 'red brick.'"

With that, the crowd erupted in laughter and then listened closely to the 20-minute speech of this man who, as it turned out, was pretty smart after all and is today the managing director of Contrarian Group, Inc., an investment and management company.

Ueberroth accepted the invitation to speak in Coeur d'Alene "because our country is going through some tough times."

"The first thing I would like to embed in your mind is the word change. We're in for change. Change has been happening so fast, we cannot see it," he said.

He recalled a visit to Germany in 1989 and meeting with the country's top officials. Someone questioned when the Berlin Wall would come down. One of the country's leaders answered, "Certainly one day, but not in my lifetime."

Within two months, the wall fell.

"So people closest to the issues don't see it. They don't see change," Ueberroth said. "Change is so close we can't see it."

The U.S. is up to the challenge, he said, because of one big reason: Philanthropy.

"Our country is built on the private sector. And the private sector has to work with the nonprofits. That's what makes us better than any place else," Ueberroth said. "There's no place else that has the giving that we do."

Leaders of businesses and nonprofits can meet today's challenges if they "return to the basics" by doing three things.

First, "We have to compete. We have to get much better, all the time, put competition back in our thoughts."

Second, keep our promises.

"Make it part of every day. That helps us keep strong," he said.

And third, have two at the top.

"Think about a marriage, think about a business partnership," Ueberroth said.

He noted a trend in the business world that's going unnoticed: Many major and medium-sized businesses are moving to bedroom communities, to the suburbs and to rural areas.

In talking to any college student, he said they can tell you what major companies are based in smaller cities like Redmond, Wash., (Microsoft), Bentonville, Ark., (Walmart) and Beaverton, Ore. (Nike).

He said the passage of the KTEC levies on Tuesday puts this area in the position to attract similar corporations that would have a huge impact on the economy.

"The courage of the voters in this community when they passed a technical school by some 65 percent speaks to an incredible community," he said. "That stuff can be sold. You can pick the companies you want to move here."

Such economic growth pays off for nonprofits through more charitable giving, and that's where the Idaho Community Foundation plays a key role.

In 2009, ICF gave nearly $5 million in grants, scholarships and distributions to schools and charitable organizations from its more than 400 funds. It has $67 million in assets. But there are many still struggling, said Robert Hoover, who recently completed his first year as ICF president and CEO.

In his travels through the state, he said he has seen tremendous unmet needs in Idaho's nonprofits.

"Spread the word about the need for philanthropy," Hoover said.

Ueberroth said they ended the 1984 Olympic games with $200 million. The following year, they gave $90 million to Los Angeles to establish a nonprofit in conjunction with a community foundation to help inner city kids.

"They have given away $200 million today and they still have $140 million," he said. "But that happens all the time. That's always the economics, if you put money aside in a community foundation."

The people who have charity in their hearts and money in their pocketbooks, he said, "can make a difference in our country."

He said those giving money to the Idaho Community Foundation "know it will be treated right, taken care of and put in the hands of charities that are keeping their promise." It's not necessary to be an expert on charities that the foundation supports, he said.

"You don't have to do anything else at all," Ueberroth said. "That's the heart of giving."

It's also pretty darn smart.

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