It's hard to believe that the insights and observations of 26-year-old Alexis de Tocqueville recorded in 1831 are still relevant.

The young French thinker and historian recognized, applauded and immortalized American voluntary action on behalf of the common good. His observations on philanthropy are also true today: Advancing the common good means creating opportunities for a better life for all.

Embracing his vision, in 1987 United Way of Central Maryland brought a program to Central Maryland from United Way of America that would unite a uniquely dedicated and generous group of community citizens to ensure that the common good continued to be advanced in our community. The program — aptly named the Tocqueville Society — this September celebrated 25 years of improving live here in Central Maryland. And there is indeed much to celebrate.

Since H. Grant Hathaway — then CEO of Equitable Bank — brought it to the United Way of Central Maryland in 1987, Tocqueville Society members have donated more than $81.2 million to address vital community needs for the most vulnerable among us. Homelessness, hunger, health and education are among the issues UWCM's Tocqueville members rally around.

Today, the nearly 400 members each donate $10,000 or more annually to United Way to ensure that the growing number of Central Marylanders facing poverty have opportunities for more self-sufficient lives. With current economic pressures mounting, I am glad that our community has United Way and its Tocqueville Society to attract inspired, loyal and generous people who are moved to advance the common good. And my husband David and I are proud to be part of such an impactful group.

In addition to support from individuals, UWCM counts many foundations as Tocqueville Society members.

"The France-Merrick Foundation has been proud to partner with United Way as a Tocqueville member for 25 consecutive years. Conditions are clearly worsening for many of our citizens and we have a responsibility to come together to have collective impact upon issues of great concern to us, such as poverty, declining public schools and providing access to opportunities for all people in our community,” said Wally Pinkard Jr., chairman of the France-Merrick Foundation, who has also personally been giving Tocqueville Society gifts for more than a decade.

For many Tocqueville Society members, their commitment has been steadfast. Nearly one-third of the current members have been giving for 10 years or more, because they can and they know their investment in United Way is an efficient investment in the common good. And yet, every year UWCM's Tocqueville Society seems to get a little younger with new women and men stepping up their commitment to their community.

These folks are all but common. In fact, in an era where nearly all people and businesses have been affected by a struggling economy, I would argue that UWCM's Tocqueville Society members are quite uncommon.

It is both heartening and important to notice how our fellow citizens continue to lend faithful support to each other. Happy 25th anniversary to all of the uncommon Tocqueville folks I am honored to serve with.

Betsy Nelson, president of the Maryland Philanthropy Network, writes every other week for The Daily Record. She can be reached at 410-727-1205 or


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