This month, as the TIRF Board members gathered in Washington, DC, people along the Carolina coastline in the eastern US braced themselves for the onslaught of Hurricane Florence. We hoped that incoming flights and ground transportation would not be hampered by adverse weather conditions, but as it turned out, all the Trustees we were expecting were able to attend the meeting.
People in the Carolinas and other parts of the world were not so fortunate. In the Philippines, Typhoon Mangkhut generated winds of up to 170 miles per hour. Over 120 people lost their lives and more than 100 are still missing. This mega-storm, which is described as the strongest of the year, moved on to Hong Kong and the southern part of mainland China, where it did extensive damage. The streets of Macau were also flooded.
In another kind of natural disaster, this has been the worst year for wildfires in California and other parts of the western United States in recorded history. In fact, another kind of swirling phenomenon has been documented and even photographed: the “firenado”. According to YouTube, this term refers to a situation where winds at ground level create an air vortex in an active fire zone. The hot air rapidly rises from ground level, which generates an upward spiral of fire. Firenados are particularly destructive because they lift burning objects as they move and then spin those items out into the area surrounding the fire, where the burning debris ignites new fires.
You may be wondering how my present focus on natural disasters relates to TIRF. Let me turn from the reality to the metaphoric use of the phrase: Serving as the President of TIRF, I feel as though I exist in the eye of the storm, at the center of a hurricane.
Dictionary.com defines the eye of a hurricane as “the region of the center of a hurricane about which the winds rotate, but which itself is relatively calm.” Metaphorically the term refers to being in a relatively quiet and untroubled place but being surrounded by a destructive, moving maelstrom.
I am sorry to admit that I have been singularly unsuccessful at raising large sums of money for TIRF. In the early days of the Foundation, some publishers gave generous gifts of US $200,000 or more. One donor made a three-year commitment of US $125,000 annually. But technological developments and changes in the publishing industry have led to major restructuring of the earlier business model. Publishers can no longer commit large sums of money in multi-year agreements. Likewise, my impression is that the present climate of ethnic hostilities and xenophobia makes individual donors retrench and think about their own financial safety nets.
TIRF also faces three major challenges in terms of our donor base. First, unlike other small philanthropic organizations, we do not draw on a local group of supporters who can immediately see the effects of their contributions in terms of local arts, music, animal welfare, and educational programs. Second, unlike other international foundations, we do not have the publicity channels of Feed the Children, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, or Greenpeace. Third – and sadly – we have been told, time and time again, that language education research is not “sexy.” A gift to support empirical research that will – at some future point in time – improve language teaching and learning does not provide the apparent concrete and seemingly immediate effect of helping homeless people or protecting endangered animal species. I understand that psychological appeal and donate to such organizations when I can.
But as a would-be fundraiser, I live inside the vortex created by financial crises, international mistrust, and changes in our profession. Thanks to the creativity and dedication of my Board colleagues, to Ryan Damerow’s initiative and tremendous work ethic, and to the amazing help from our intern, Wyatt Boykin, we are making progress in TIRF’s programmatic offerings. However, it is not an exaggeration to say that social, political, and economic forces surrounding the Foundation threaten its very existence.
Here in the eye of the storm, in peaceful moments, I try to affirm my belief that more effective human communication is needed throughout the world. Surely quiet understanding of others remains at the center of the swirling chaos that surrounds us.
Please can you help? This year, TIRF is operating with a serious deficit budget. That means we are spending more money than we are taking in. If this pattern continues, TIRF will cease to exist in about two years. We have survived deficit years in the past, but never with such low reserves or with so little hope of securing major incoming gifts. The TIRF Trustees are determined to succeed, but we will need the help of both our loyal supporters and new donors. Every gift counts, no matter what its size may be. Please won’t you click here to donate to TIRF and help the Foundation weather the storm.