Giving Ventures Podcast: Preserving Our History

Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association Share Washington’s Story in ‘Inspirational Manner’

Hand, who runs the history website “Americana Corner,” says his favorite historical site — hands down — is George Washington’s Mount Vernon, which sits atop a hill along the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia and is open daily to the public.

“Mount Vernon is my all-time favorite. It’s an easy one. It’s the story of George Washington, of course — a quintessential American and the ladies there — the ladies’ association — still tells the George Washington American story in an inspirational manner,” he says.

The ladies’ association, he adds, have preserved the parts of Washington’s story worth remembering and don’t feel the need to qualify every statement they make about our first president but simply tell his story and share the history instead of virtue signaling as so many historical sites do these days.

“They haven’t succumbed to this current craze of finding a lot of criticism and focuses on that and they focus on his accomplishments. Just love going there — never tire of it,” says Hand.

Hand Approaches His Charitable Giving ‘As An Investment’

Before his foray into supporting historical-preservation enthusiasts, Hand and his wife, Char, built up and — in 2019 — sold Gilman Cheese, a cheese-manufacturing company based in Wisconsin. The experience informs his philanthropy to this day.

“I’m still looking at return on investment. I don’t like giving money away or spending it or investing it foolishly. And not every charity is a good investment just like not every business opportunity is a good investment. So, I still approach my charitable giving as an investment,” he says.

The former business owner says that — if he’s going to award someone a $10,000 grant — he wants to know who will see the fruit of that investment and whether an organization has a social-media presence with sufficient reach that others will notice the work and even whether a site welcomes visitors.

“So, when I’m evaluating the grants each year, I take a look at where those dollars will be used, how they’re going to be used and how they’re going to help further the great American story – and so it’s still a return on investment and I think I learned that from running my cheese business.”

Working on ‘Getting Your Message Out There’

The historian, who is a board member of the American Battlefield Trust, says his next big project is figuring out how to better package and deliver the stories of the many historical sites he’s helping preserve for posterity and that it’s not an easy task as there are a lot of sites and that his peers didn’t come of age in the golden age of social media.

“One of the things we’re trying to look at know is ‘How can we help these small organizations stand up better?’ asks Hand. “Honestly, there are a lot of people like myself — I’m 63 — and we didn’t grow up on [social media]. But, if you’re not doing it well, you’re not getting your message out there.”

The key, says Hand, to solid storytelling is finding a “vibrant board,” as most of the historic-preservation organizations he supports are all-volunteer organizations, and finding the resources to create a user-friendly website and developing a robust presence on various social-media platforms.

Application-Based Process for Historical-Preservation Enthusiasts ‘So Uplifting’

Hand earlier this year awarded more than $800,000 to 130 organizations that are in some way preserving American history. The application-based program, he says, is a salve to the otherwise discouraging narratives about American history that play out on mainstream television every day.

“Sometimes if you just watch mainstream media you can be disappointed or discouraged that more people are forgetting about this country [we live in] and yet this whole application-based process that I have has really been so uplifting to know they’re so many people out there who still want to tell the great American story.”

DonorsTrust is ‘That Partner That You Just Dream of Having with Philanthropy’

“This whole thing, Peter, has worked out so much better than I expected,” he said of his partnership with DonorsTrust. “I had been with a very professional outfit Vanguard Charitable, professionally run, they always treated me well but they’re big and I needed a personal touch. I needed to know that my team was in this with me and DonorsTrust is that partner that you just dream of having with philanthropy because you guys do everything I ask you to do and my asks are not easy.”

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