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Celebrating Our Individual and Collective “Points of Light”
By Matt Sanderson, President and CEO, SmithBucklin

One of the most enduring legacies of former President George H.W. Bush, who died last November, stems from a famous quote from his nomination speech more than 30 years ago. In this speech, Bush called America’s volunteer organizations "a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky."
When he was inaugurated as the 41st president of the United States on Jan. 20, 1989, Bush again mentioned the phrase. “I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good.”
Bush’s commitment to volunteering was more than a campaign slogan — during his first year in office, he created the “Daily Points of Light Award” for individuals making a difference. (During his tenure as president, Bush formally recognized more than 1,000 volunteers as "points of light.") And in 1990, Bush helped found the Points of Light Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to mobilizing people to take action on the causes they care about and to encourage and empower the spirit of service. The Points of Light Foundation ultimately created and now celebrates National Volunteer Week, which occurs each April and is an opportunity to thank volunteers who lend their time, talent, and voice to make a difference in their communities. This is Bush’s volunteer legacy, as President John F. Kennedy’s was the Peace Corps.
During National Volunteer Week and throughout our 70th year, SmithBucklin, a company whose work both relies on and enables volunteers, has chosen to celebrate and illuminate the contributions of association volunteers. These volunteers are leaders from every field who choose to be a part of something bigger than themselves by serving on nonprofit boards and committees. We at SmithBucklin are fortunate in our work to see the mission impact of these “points of light” every day as part of the association volunteer economy. Volunteers not only make our work possible, but they inspire us. And collectively, more than any other single force, they move industries and professions forward.
Volunteering Transcends Politics

Singer-songwriter Neil Young and President Donald Trump — men at the opposite ends of the political spectrum — both famously, and independently, derided Bush’s “thousand points of light” for their own political and commercial gain. However, the message perseveres because the power of volunteering is a transcendent, unifying force that can make a difference beyond what any individual, or any government alone can do. From that same 1989 Inauguration speech: “The old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.” Volunteering is a timeless, inclusive, and selfless pursuit for the greater good.
Creating a Volunteer Mystique

In a memorial Wall Street Journal op-ed column on Bush last December, author and speechwriter Peggy Noonan — the one who is credited with the “thousand points of light” phrase and speech — reflected on the unheralded and historic contributions Bush made during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Noonan notes Bush’s grace and humility and claims he was the “last president to serve under — and add to — that American mystique” before controversial military intervention, scandals, economic crises, and social media became indelible. Noonan’s take is that Bush served dutifully behind the scenes letting actions speak for themselves, perhaps to a fault (which, she argues, may have cost him a Nobel Peace Prize).
The Points of Light Foundation’s National Volunteer Week — April 7-13 this year — provides all of us connected to this powerful volunteer economy with the opportunity to ensure that those who serve as volunteers are celebrated and thanked for their actions and the impact of their commitment and dedication to their communities, fields, industries, and professions. It is the most recognized opportunity to honor volunteers and their contributions — in hopes that we may cultivate a new American mystique that serves to inspire and fuel the volunteer pipeline of the future.
  Matt Sanderson is President & CEO of SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other.

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Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for 70 years.


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