Pulse of Philanthropy

When Our Charities Thrive, Door County Prospers

Charity is more important to Door County than it is to any other community in Wisconsin. We make this bold statement so often at the Community Foundation that it has become our mantra, but it’s important to occasionally remind ourselves why it’s true. To begin, think for a moment about what you love most about Door County.

Perhaps you love Door County’s vibrant arts and cultural scene. Think of the grand stage at Peninsula Players, the original musical comedies of Northern Sky Theater, the intimate performance space of Third Avenue PlayWorks and the smaller theatrical companies that also call Door County home. Organizations such as Midsummer’s Music and the Birch Creek Music Performance Center provide the soundtrack of our summer. Our personal stories are given voice at Write On, Door County. Artistry and beauty are created at Peninsula Art School and put on display at venues such as the Hardy Gallery and the Link Gallery at Door Community Auditorium. 

These arts and cultural organizations and so many others are part of what makes Door County so special, and they are an essential ingredient of our quality of life. We should also remember that these cultural treasures are charities.

Maybe your love of Door County is rooted in the verdant beauty that blooms everywhere around us. The Ridges Sanctuary is one of the most biologically diverse places in our state. I learned that during an educational program at Crossroads at Big Creek. Our five state parks all depend on the volunteerism and financial support of groups such as the Friends of Peninsula State Park and the Friends of Potawatomi State Park. Door County Land Trust preserves environmentally important places in our community.

Door County is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty that defines it – and us – and is integral to our identity. We must remember that most of the stewards, defenders and champions of our natural treasures are charities.

Perhaps this is all a bit touchy-feely for you. Maybe what you value most about Door County is the economic opportunity it offers you as an employee or entrepreneur. Think of all the resorts, restaurants and retail shops that are possible because millions of tourists and seasonal residents visit us. Then consider the people who serve our tourist businesses and everyone else, such as bankers, accountants and health care providers.

The reality is that most tourists and seasonal friends don’t come to Door County because of these for-profit businesses. Rather, people visit our community because of our unique confluence of arts and cultural organizations situated in the midst of our environmental treasures. Our charities are the central reason why most people decide to visit and then come back each year. Only upon their arrival do they stay in a hotel after hiking all day, eat dinner before attending a show, or buy a souvenir before leaving our peninsula. 

None of the other Wisconsin counties where tourism is a major part of the economy are driven by charity. Tourism in Brown County is overwhelmingly linked to football. Wisconsin Dells is the “water park capital of the world.” Unlike anywhere else in Wisconsin, the primary tourist attractions here are charities or inherently linked to charities.

A Community Foundation analysis conducted in 2011 estimated that approximately 3,600 full-time-equivalent jobs are linked to the economic impact of Door County charities, yet they are far more than an economic-development tool: They are essential to sanding off the rough edges of our seasonal economy. 

Consider a hotel front-desk clerk. In Green Bay, Appleton and Milwaukee, that’s probably a full-time, year-round job with benefits. In Door County, it’s a seasonal job with no health insurance. 

We need our human-service charities to help fill the gaps during the winter, when the summer’s wages have all been spent. From the groceries that the Food Pantry Coalition provides, to the charitable medical and dental care at Door County Medical Center, we count on many human-service organizations to help people in our community.

That’s why we at the Community Foundation offer frequent reminders that charity is more important to Door County than it is to any other community in the state. It’s essential to our quality of life. It’s the major driver of our tourist industry. It helps those who struggle in our seasonal economy. When our charities thrive, Door County prospers.Contact Bret Bicoy at [email protected]