St. Louis undoubtedly will be one of the centers of that enthusiasm with the Missouri Tigers having advanced to the West Region finals Thursday night. For the Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation (EGR) aid organization, their interest in the tournament extends beyond their location in the “Gateway to the West.”
EGR is sponsoring “March Gladness,” offering a unique spin on the annual ritual of the most casual sports fans filling out NCAA tournament brackets. Entrants paid a $10 entry fee for filling out their brackets from start to finish. The pool of money is divided identically to ordinary pools: 50 percent to the winner, 25 percent for second place, 15 percent for third place and 10 percent for fourth.
That is where the similarities end.
Also as part of their entry contestants have to pick a non-profit where their winnings go. Who the beneficiaries are is entirely up to the contestant and a very wide open. The only requirement is the match up with the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which EGR uses as guiding principles for its philanthropic efforts.
“We ask for people to name a nonprofit that works toward the MDGs, but some people still name their local food pantry,” explained EGR executive director Michael Kinman.
“I made the decision last year, our first year doing it with EGR, that we weren’t going to go back to people and make them choose again.
“We would ask for MDG but if their heart really was for something else–as long as it’s a non-profit–we let it slide. Probably about 80 percent of the charities people play for are MDG related, so that’s pretty good.”
Kinman said there were 58 entries this year for a modest pool of $580. That’s up from 40 entries when it launched last year.
“I’d been hoping for a bit more, but I’m pretty happy with this,” Kinman said. “If we keep doing it, it will gain momentum. The important thing is everyone has fun and people get some resources they really need. One thing that has been fun about this year is that people have been leaving more messages on the message board, so there’s a little community building going on, which is always wonderful.”
The ball got rolling on March Gladness in 2003 when Kinman was Episcopal chaplain at St. Louis’ Washington University and the idea was proposed by student Lesley McCullough.
On a larger scale Kinman said EGR has launched an initiative to get all the Episcopalian dioceses to contribute 0.7 percent of their income toward the MDGs. So far, 80 percent of those dioceses are on board.
“We also want to call people to conversion in areas of their life that help keep people in poverty,” Kinman said. “Last year we ran a ‘Give it 4 Good’ campaign that challenged people not only to give all or part of their economic stimulus checks to the MDGs. but equipped them with resources to look at how to be a Christian in a hyper-consumptive culture. We raised more than $100,000 for the MDGs, but more than that we started some wonderful conversations.”
The development of EGR, Kinman stressed, is ultimately in God’s hands.
“It’s all because of God,” he said. “The best thing we ever do is to try not to get in the way of the Spirit. We don’t have a 3-year or a 5-year plan. We regularly ask the question of whether we still need to exist.
“We truly believe not in doing something and asking God to bless it but to look around and see the wonderful things God is already doing and saying, ‘How can we bless this?’ That’s kind of what March Gladness is about. There’s a lot of joyful energy around the NCAA Tournament. This is a way we can bless it so that it may be a blessing to others.”
Kinman will certainly be rooting for Missouri, his alma mater, when it plays Connecticut on Saturday for a Final Four bid. He said most of the entrants picked high seeds such as Louisville, Pitt and North Carolina to win. The exception is his 10-year-old son, who took Mizzou and contributed toward school-building in Asia based on a best-selling book.
“Well, just about everyone here in Missouri is rooting for the Tigers,” Kinman said. “I’m a Mizzou alum, so I was shouting myself hoarse last night when they beat Memphis.
“But March Gladness draws from all over the country. I think the only person who has Mizzou in the Final Four is my 10-year old son, Schroedter. He’s playing for the Central Asia Institute because we’re reading Three Cups of Tea together and he wants to help build a school.”
Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation: http://www.e4gr.org/index.html
Millennium Development Goals: http://www.e4gr.org/mdgs/fast_facts.html
Three Cups of Tea: http://www.threecupsoftea.com/