dignity
December 21, 2013

when my daughter was very young, like 3-5 yrs old young, we embraced the jewish tradition at home of putting coins in a charity box every friday night. the first time the box was full we asked our daughter to decide where to donate the money. there were some obvious choices: the animal shelter she’d visited with her daisy girl scout troop, the homeless youth center where her dad worked, her own school. but she didn’t even hesitate– dignity village, she declared.

dignity village is an enclave of homeless people who created a makeshift tent village under the highway near where we lived. we drove by it occasionally. our daughter had asked what it was, and we ‘d explained it to her. she’d been with her dad once when he dropped off a couple of sleeping pads for camping that we didn’t need anymore.

ok, dignity village. we all got into the car with the bag of change from the charity box and drove to dignity village. at the entry we explained why we were there. we were led to the man in charge. our daughter handed him the bag. some one came with a camera and took a picture. the man told us our daughter was their youngest donor. then someone else came with one of those small packets of peanut butter crackers, gave it to the man in charge and he handed it to our daughter. she hesitated and looked at me. i nodded. she took the crackers and said thank you.

she left satisfied but confused. she had come to dignity village to give them money and they gave her food even though she had plenty and they didn’t. it was important to them to give you something too, i explained to my daughter. they wanted to thank you. and they wanted you to know that they also have things to give, things that are  important to all of us: food & dignity.

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side benefits
November 16, 2013

one of the side benefits to launching a crowd source funding campaign is the unexpected. i’ve connected with a Portuguese film maker interested in related subject matter who is also running a campaign and my high school art history teacher who i haven’t seen or heard from in over 30 years.

another benefit is that by gaining personal experience using this model i’m improving my chance of gaining exposure on blogs or at conferences as some one with expertise in this area.

it’s also given me a reason to reach out to certain people i admire and make a more personal connection.

and speaking of connection, because the fundraising requires me to be on social media sites more often than usual, i’ve enjoyed reconnecting with old friends via IM as well as getting to participate in some online events that i might not have known about otherwise and were beneficial.

my point: philanthropy often comes with side benefits, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

the problem:  when side benefits are the expectation and/or the main motivation for giving or soliciting.

morality vs. frugality
August 27, 2013

In his TED talk, dan pollotta makes a distinction in philanthropy between frugality and morality. the bottom line: they aren’t equal. pallotta says too often donors want to see the organizations they give to behaving in fiscally frugal ways. the reasoning goes that the less a non-profit spends on everything other than direct service the better (read more trustworthy, honest, high minded) the organization. in other words many donors do equate frugality with morality.

do you?

i can honestly say i was influenced by my upbringing to believe in general frugality is a superior trait and one to aspire to. such a world view has definitely affected my perspectives and actions. i admit to having made moral judgments about others based in large part on their spending habits. and i’ve been hypocritical enough not to count some very lavish spenders I know as less moral.

but less isn’t always more. the true bottom line for non-profits is impact. and by chaining donations to both organizations and individuals to the measure of their frugality is often short sighted.

maybe you think someone who needs financial assistance shouldn’t be spending money on an iphone or a taxi. maybe that’s because you think you know better than they do about being smart with your money. maybe that means you feel superior or judgmental or that you only want to give to people who subscribe to your world view.

sure you have that right. but take a moment to think about how your assumptions limit you. can you recall a time your actions were judged by someone who didn’t have all the information and criticized your values? what would it be like to give money to someone for whom frugality wasn’t a strong value?

giving & getting apartheid
July 16, 2013

in his provocative TED talk, dan pallotta claims there’s an apartheid system between business and non-profits —separate rule books.  he encapsulates his perspective through 5 areas of discrimination:

*Compensation— how much $ professionals in the field earn
*Advertising & Marketing — how much of our donations/investment we consider reasonable for an organization to spend on these
*Risk in Pursuit of Revenue— our tolerance for/support of  taking risks with our donations/investments that include failure in the pursuit best practices
*Time— our tolerance for donating/investing over time without success (pallotta points out it took Amazon 6 yrs until it turned a profit, but investors stuck it out)
*Profits — providing a stock market, a mechanism to reward donors/investors on a significant and meaningful level

i will post about each of these individually. anyone want to request which one to start with?

giving what we need
June 10, 2013

my friend kim’s mother tells this story about her early days as a philanthropist going door to door in jewish neighborhoods to collect the contents of charity boxes for the local jewish Federation to use to help jewish communities at home and abroad. because she was going door to door, many in the neighborhood saw she was coming and had their donations ready. one particular neighborhood  included a home just before the outskirts with weeds growing in front, peeling paint,  and two cracked windows taped with newspaper. kim’s mother wasn’t even sure anyone lived there, so she turned around to leave. she hadn’t taken too many steps before she heard an old woman’s voice:
Young lady, young lady?
Yes, Mam, good afternoon, she replied.
Aren’t you the lady from the Federation?
Yes, Mam, I am.
Well then, come on in. I have something for you.
kim’s mom entered the woman’s home. she was frail and limping. it was clear from the state of things she was in need of assistance. she offered kim’s mother a cup of tea. they chatted for awhile, and then the woman gave her a handful of coins for the Federation. kim’s mom thanked her and added them to the others.
that afternoon, when she returned to the Federation office, she gave them the woman’s address so they could send a member of jewish child and family services to her to ensure she received the assistance she needed.
this is what kim’s mom says– we both got what we needed through the act of giving that day.

talkin bout legacy
May 27, 2013

everything the donating public has been taught about giving is dysfunctional, says AIDS Ride founder Dan Pallotta.

now, i’m not willing to go as far as “everything,” but i do agree there’s a lot of dysfunction in the way we think about and do philanthropy.

i implore all of us committed to philanthropy to participate in the process of taking a hard look at the thinking and perspectives that have been handed down to us and undertake some serious revising– and reinventing, if necessary. the goal is to pass on a better legacy, one that is more functional and builds in the process of evaluation and change necessary for any dynamic enterprise to be successful.

we could start the discussion right here. or we can gather elsewhere, in person or via the web.

who wants to join me?

why we think like we do
May 4, 2013

in his fascinating TED talk, dan pallotta offers the following take on the origins of our american perspective on giving.

pallota believes our ideology comes from Puritan beliefs. he explains that although we commonly learn Puritans came to America for the sake of religious freedom that they also came to make $. pallaota claims Puritans were really aggressive capitalists. this presented them with a dilemma. their self-interest (capitalist tendencies) would lead to eternal damnation. to reconcile these two contradictory values they turned to charity. they could do penance for their capitalist self-interest at 5% on the dollar. so charity developed out of a desire for  (and as a means of) doing  penance, not as a method (or a desire)  to help the less fortunate or solve social problems.

framed this way, it’s easy to see why there can exist an inherent conflict in the act of giving as we have come to understand it. it would, in fact make sense that our philanthropy puts the emphasis on the wrong syllable, so to speak.

what would it look like and how would it feel to step out of this giving legacy?

dan pallotta: the way we think about charity is dead wrong
April 20, 2013

in a recent and fabulous TED talk, dan pallotta spoke about many aspects of giving i will visit in my posts. i highly recommend anyone concerned about philanthropy and/or solving issues of health, hunger and poverty listen and take heed:

http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pallotta_the_way_we_think_about_charity_is_dead_wrong.html

i will be posting about pallotta’s take on:

  • why we see philanthropy the way we do
  • morality vs. frugality
  • the potential for our generational legacy

stay tuned….

incentives
March 12, 2013

i’m working on an advice book, an anthology. i need teenage girls to contribute their advice. it’s an opportunity to be a published writer, to help other girls, to be seen as someone whose advice is valuable to more than just close friends, to put it on a college application, to help support a girl empowering cause.

but it’s quite hard to get teenage girls to take the time to contribute. why?

for the most part they won’t bother unless you give them something tangible as motivation: an incentive, like a gift card to TJ Maxx, Starbucks or Claire’s, or a chance to win an Ipad.

incentives:
help others
have people listen to what you have to say
support a good cause
gift card
raffle tickets

youth that expect to get to give.  the question is, is this generation really that different than any other?

do no harm
March 10, 2012

there are girls who can’t afford to attend their prom.
a non-profit creates a contest for these girls.
the girls write an essay and get letters of recommendation to submit to the contest.
the winner gets a free prom dress, $500 towards her education, a free makeover for prom night, a ticket to the prom, a refurbished laptop and more.

my friend K rolls her eyes, well off white ladies, right?
right.
so these girls learn:
a. you have to out yourself and your family situation to total strangers who are better off than you about your poor pitiful but deserving state to have a chance to get out of it for the night
b. it’s a contest and only one girl is going to win and the rest are, well, losers (again)
c. nothing worth having doesn’t cost money or dignity
d. white people are definitely in control

and what does it say about the underlying beliefs of the folks at the non-profit that hold this contest?

one reason mindful giving matters is that sincerely well meaning people can give and make it worse.