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Celebrate The Victories

By Len Reidel

Feb./March 2003

I am honored to have a few paragraphs to share my perspective on preservation and partnerships. The Blue and Gray Education Society (BGES) recently completed an impressive and important educational project at Crampton's Gap in Maryland. The dedication and transfer ceremony represented the best of what the nonprofit world is all about.

In the span of just 15 months, our 17 interpretative sign, $50,000 project was conceptualized, funded, completed, and installed "" a Quality Product, On Time and On Budget!

The dedication ceremony was time well spent. In addition to the actual ceremony keynoted by retired Gen. Jack Mountcastle, we were treated to a firing of the park's full-size artillery piece. Cookin' Cajun delivered a wonderful lunch. The park provided docents to conduct free tours of Crampton's, Turner's and Fox's Gaps throughout the morning. Historian/author Tim Reese led a tour of the entire South Mountain battlefield. It was indeed a celebration of our victory.

Events such as the dedication are instructive for a number of reasons not the least of which is that "The good guys and gals won one!" At a time when so many charities are concerned about the reduction in donations to their own very worthy causes, the membership of the BGES stood tall and completed its task as promised.

The point is that the nonprofit world has a unique spot in the hearts of Americans most of whom have special causes. Indeed the BGES is on target [at time of writing in late fall] for a record year in donations.

We have been heartened by the attitudes of a number of sister organizations. Partners like the Friends of the South Mountain Battlefields, Save Historic Antietam Foundation, Brandy Station Foundation, Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, and Friends of the Wilderness are all working on projects that are important to the communities they serve.

One need only visit Kernstown where a dedicated group of citizens in the Kernstown Battlefield Association literally snatched a magnificent battlefield, in the very shadows of encroaching development, from the developer's bulldozers. In Raymond, Miss., a community minded group, Friends of Raymond, led by the mayor, has faithfully engaged in the acquisition and preservation of a pivotal engagement from the Vicksburg Campaign.

In the bloody fields around Fredericksburg, our Friends of the Wilderness Battlefields are engaged in the restoration of the Lacy House; while a dedicated group of private citizens in the Central Virginia Battlefield Trust are putting their money where their mouths are by purchasing threatened battlefield land.

Despite all the challenges preservationists face there are a systematic series of victories. BGES made a point of inviting as many local and regional organizations to our celebration as possible. We wanted to invite them to celebrate our success just as we celebrate theirs.

There are some great stories out there. Whenever we become aware of one, we use our communications resources to spread the word. Our E-mail list of nearly 900 people has extraordinary networking potential. Whenever people come to they join the network. We also use our website to link with like-minded groups and to educate. The information included on our seminar listings is a significant education by itself.

Cooperation is the key to moving the preservation ball towards the goal line. Our collective resources are too sparse and precious to squander them on petty fiefdoms. BGES conducts seminars and tours; however, when we get a call or request for tour information we provide it without regard for who is offering the program. We tell the people to please let our competitors know that we referred them.

Sadly, we have never received a call in which the caller told us that a competitor referred them to us. We will keep providing competitors' phone numbers and a list of the events they are offering because it is the right thing to do. We will even publish our partners' tours and meetings in our Seminars and Tours brochure at our expense.

Competition is an insidious stain on our common mission. The view that a dollar given to one cause is a dollar not given to my cause diffuses the preservation effort. I know many of BGES's donors support other organizations "" I'm glad they do. As our members know, we encourage them to! I'm afraid many Civil War nonprofit organizations don't give their clients credit for having minds of their own.

While it is important to protect donor lists there should be a spirit of cooperation when it comes to educating our supporters about other worthy organizations. An endorsed letter from an agency's executive leadership will go a long ways toward promoting another's worthy cause. Yet I remain mystified by preservationists and organizations that refuse to even provide simple information or assistance to groups who share a preservation/education mission.

Some Civil War buffs were denied information and an invitation to our free dedication because an individual refused to provide us with contact information. This preservationist said we weren't his friend. Sad.

As BGES enters its ninth year of public service, it remains our passionate wish that people and organizations with followings or national constituencies will use their pulpits for positive rather than destructive purposes and that they will not lock themselves into exclusive relationships that block other productive partnerships.

We hope that all will realize that there are many means to a common end. There is room for diverse opinions about how to achieve a productive outcome "" just because one group doesn't support a "scorched earth" solution is no reason to attack them. Often times all or nothing results in nothing.

Conversely, whenever, a group succeeds all should take a few moments to celebrate. And, most importantly, when you do something good, don't keep it a secret. Time is too short and issues are too pressing to reinvent the wheel every time a new challenge arises.

BGES respects the work of Civil War round tables, friends groups and other nonprofit organizations. We are actively seeking strategic partnerships to further our collective missions. If you represent such a group lets see if a partnership is practical or desirable? Call us toll free at (888) 741-2437 and together we will see what we should do.

Len Riedel is Executive Director of the Blue and Gray Education Society. Founded in 1994, the group has earned a reputation for integrity and progressive programs. The interpretation of Crampton's Gap is its latest project. Membership dues are tax deducti

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