A Model of Generosity
Colleen Abdoulah grew up in the prairie province of Saskatchewan, Canada, the fourth of five children in a family that was a model of tenacity and generosity. “My father had to begin working from the age of six to help his family,” she says. “He and my mother passed down that same strong work ethic to all of us children. They owned a restaurant, while we were growing up, and we all had to chip in and help.”
The work ethic her parents instilled in Colleen has paid off. She received a Degree in Public Relations/Marketing from Mount Royal College in Calgary, Alberta, and later went on to receive her MBA at the University of Denver. Today Colleen is the CEO/President of Wide Open West (WOW!), regional Internet, cable, and phone provider headquartered in Denver and she sits on four boards in addition to the WOW! Board: the American Cable Association and C-SPAN, and two community boards, the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center and Women’s Vision Foundation.It was also her family culture that embedded a philanthropic nature in Colleen, long before she even knew what the word meant. “We worked really hard and when the restaurant did well, every one of the staff would get a bonus,” she says. “My dad felt that when things go well, you have to share the wealth, and you could not go around feeling like you deserved it.” She says it was also common that if one of the workers had illness in their family, everyone chipped in to help. “They were very generous with everyone and not just family,” she says of her parents.So, in 2006 when Colleen sold WOW!, she knew that she wanted to contribute a significant amount of her earnings to the nonprofits with which she was involved. To help accomplish her goals, she created a donor-advised fund at The Denver Foundation.
“It was my financial planner, Jason Maples, who suggested The Denver Foundation,” Colleen shares. “And I really have enjoyed what I have found there and the ease of the commitment. All I do is give them a call or go online and I don’t have to personally keep track of things, which is great because I do give a lot of grants.”
Colleen believes that philanthropy is spiritually based: “We are here not to just care for ourselves but to care for others. I just couldn’t enjoy the blessings I have been given without sharing a large portion of it with others, especially others who have not had the opportunities that I have had. The reality is that none of us can choose the circumstances into which we are born, but it is my obligation, as a human being, to help others who don’t have the opportunities I do because of the circumstances in which they live.”
Colleen, who adopted her daughter Alex (now 24), at the age of 11 says her top priority in giving is to causes affecting women and children, especially those who are marginalized. She also gives to organizations that help combat abuse and hunger both locally and internationally. Another priority for her is helping to fight diseases such as juvenile diabetes, with which her niece was diagnosed at age four; Cystic Fibrosis, to which she lost a friend at the age of 20; and heart disease. Cancer is also high on her list. Colleen herself was diagnosed in 2005 with stage three breast cancer and underwent ten months of treatment including chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. After losing her hair, she simply went to work bald and continued with her many commitments, refusing to let the cancer be the central theme of her life. She got through it with the help of friends and family. She says the experience helped reinforce what is important in life. “The reality is that we come into this world alone and with nothing, and we leave the same way. What matters is who you touched along the way,” Colleen states. “That’s all that matters.”
She says that she has also given a lot of thought to her levels of giving. “I currently give over 30% of my income, but am constantly challenging myself to do more.” The more that I have, means the more that I have to give.” Recently inspired by reading about the 50% Club, a group of donors who contribute 50% of their income, Colleen says she is not there yet and admires those that are.
Colleen gives to causes she believes in and wants her legacy to be simply how she loved and how she modeled love. She constantly challenges herself to do more, to give more, and to help others. Thank you, Colleen, for challenging each of us, as well.
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