For as long as he can remember, Bill Dickey has been a giver. In high school, he played Santa Claus and went to his friends' homes to give presents. Calling it his "generosity gene," Dickey credits his parents with his charitable nature.
Over the course of 40 years, Dickey's philanthropic successes are far reaching; countless organizations have received assistance from him personally and through his business, Morel Ink. Spending his early adult years in the Portland restaurant scene where people often asked restaurants and restaurateurs to give back, due to his nature, Dickey happily obliged. Dickey learned the restaurant trade and eventually opened his own while continuing his philanthropic work. With other restaurants, he organized donated dinners to Portland homeless and a holiday dinner cruise on the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler for 300 low-income and homeless people.
"People come to you and ask, you say yes, the word gets out, and all of sudden you're helping all kinds of groups. The company I worked for in the restaurant business encouraged us as mangers to get involved in the Chamber of Commerce or the Visitors Association, so I got to know people in the nonprofit world through those organizations, too" said Dickey.
A pivotal moment occurred to Dickey when the AIDS crisis hit in the 80s. At 27, AIDS was rampant around him and Dickey found ways to help.
"I did all kinds of volunteer work around the AIDS issue. I served on the board of Cascade AIDS Project, I raised money for CAP in many ways including dance parties, the AIDS walk, and the CAP Art Auction was started at one of the events I was producing for CAP. I have also been involved in many political campaigns, and met volunteers on campaigns, many of those volunteers are involved in like-minded non-profits associated with the campaigns. I've met a lot of people and gave a lot of donations. But the short answer is they chose me," Dickey said.
In order to maintain sobriety, Dickey left the restaurant business and was hired by a printing company. And like before, he learned the trade and founded his own business. People continued asking for donations and Dickey, now at Morel Ink, gave. Now a printer, Dickey longed for the fun party aspect of being a restaurateur. In 2007, he decided to host an annual charity event which would partner fun with philanthropy.
"It was like opening a bar for a one night blow out. It served the purpose of getting me involved in a hospitality situation without the career," he said.
Dickey's idea was to have 10 people act as a host committee and invite 10 people each who would guarantee to donate $100 to the charity chosen on the night of the gala. With 100 attendees guaranteeing a $100 donation each, the night's contributions were starting off at $10,000. Another 50-100 people would be invited who would ideally donate and hopefully a big donor would decide to attend. Dickey hosts the event paying for catering and party expenses, including printing the invitations. For 12 years, Dickey has raised as much as $20,000 for various organizations.
"The charity receives 100% donation gifts with no expenses and the host committee has the fun of being part of a successful event. And now, I'm nearly 24 years sober," Dickey said.
In all, Dickey has given over $2.5 million in cash and organized charity events to more than 100 organizations and given in-kind donations to many more. Recipients have included Basic Rights Oregon, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, ACLU Foundation of Oregon, Planned Parenthood of the Columbia-Willamette, DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital and the 42nd Avenue Business Alliance. Portland Monthly magazine awarded Dickey their Light a Fire Award in 2007 and the recognitions haven't stopped. In 2013, Dickey was named a Queer Hero by the Q Center and a year later received the 2014 Sam C. Wheeler Freedom Award from De Paul Treatment Centers. Both the Multnomah County Democrats and Basic Rights Oregon recognized him as the 2015 Hero of the Year.
"Bill is not the largest philanthropist in the area in terms of the amount of the dollars he has given, but in comparison to many who have been recognized by the chapter in the past, he probably gives away a larger percentage of his income and assets than most," said James Phelps, former Development Director at ACLU of Oregon. "He is exactly the kind of individual development professionals like because he has a hard time saying no to a good cause. Over the years, I have become increasingly aware of how much of an impact Bill and Morel Ink have on nonprofit organizations You would have a hard time finding an LGBTQ organization in the area who has not benefitted from Bill's generosity and for many of those smaller organizations, he is their largest donor. "
Dickey is an active, informed member of the community who loves the arts and gives to charities who he feels improves society, including organizations outside of Portland including the Kauai Historic Society, Equality California and national nonprofit Make-a-Wish Foundation. He rarely places restrictions on his gifts, instead trusting the organizations to use the money wisely. Dickey says loyalty will win over almost everything in many circumstances in both business and societal life.
"It goes without saying that supporting your community is by far and away one of the most important parts of life. Donating to public art, public health, clubs of all sorts, spiritual organizations, and many other organizations, is what makes life worth living," Dickey said. "I think people who give time are probably as valuable than those who just write checks. I realize the money is important, but without volunteerism most organizations would fail. It's a good combination that makes the system work."
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