Let's Tap the Power of Public Giving
The more we share, the more we care
(NOTE: Happy Holidays to you and your families, from me and mine—above. I have really enjoyed getting back into writing over the past few weeks and appreciate your reading, sharing and encouragement. Here’s to lots of growth on every level for us all in 2021!)
‘Tis the end-of-year holiday season, when we tend to reflect on the past year and consider what is most meaningful in life. A part of this time and reflection leads to a seasonal spike in charitable giving. Even when subtracting tax benefit considerations, research proves that we do, indeed, give more during this time of year. Giving tends to be private and quiet, but perhaps it’s time to do more good by being more public.
My thinking was sparked by a recent Sam Harris podcast on the topic of Effective Altruism, which is “about using evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible, and taking action on that basis.” Podcast guest and co-creator of this concept, William MacAskill, described it as a new way of deciding how and which causes to support.
The two spoke of many topics around giving, and shared their own personal philosophies. They discussed the idea of giving a standard percentage of income, and pledging to give away one’s entire wealth over a lifetime. Hearing their discussion was refreshing. I was struck by the fact that, well, most of us rarely speak about where, why and how we give to causes, yet much value can come from this.
Social Sharing is an Impact Multiplier
Last week The New York Times shared the story of a burst of $4.2 billion in giving by MacKenzie Scott, the former wife of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. With no fanfare, no laborious grant proposals, and no requests for naming rights, Scott gave to 384 organizations. She shared the list in this Medium post, as well as her thinking and strategy around the decisions.
I believe she is tapping into an observation that Sam Harris made: After mentioning specific causes on his podcast, he has seen significant spikes in giving by his audience. While few of us have a massive podcast audience or $4.2 billion to give away, perhaps we should share our giving more publicly.
There’s a few reasons why giving should be more socialized:
Awareness - We depend on each other to learn about new products and services—i.e. word-of-mouth marketing. Charities benefit in the same way.
Research Shortcut - When someone I know and trust has devoted time and money to a cause they believe in, I’m much more likely to trust and contribute to that cause as well.
Behavioral Cues - The more we see others giving, the more of a conscious and unconscious impression it makes on us; giving becomes further normalized and expected. And sometimes we just need a reminder.
Better Together - When a group of friends volunteers or donates together, it becomes a fun shared experience.
The result is that when you give to a good cause, and share that cause with your network, every dollar you give could turn into much more when others see and act. It’s a “viral effect” in the most positive way imaginable.
Finally I think we need to adjust the social norms around giving a bit. Let’s try to use the guilt-factor less in our charitable appeals. And we need to stop thinking about sharing our giving as a “humble brag.” We should proudly share the causes we support, and celebrate the positive output that we can make together.
Causes We’ve Supported this Year
So in this spirit here’s a list of causes that our family has financially contributed to in 2020, with a few words on why we support them. I’ve missed a few things, and I don’t feel comfortable mentioning the amounts. Perhaps you will be inspired to support these or other personally-relevant causes after seeing these examples:
Freestore Foodbank - Our Cincinnati-based organization for the hungry. This group has been especially important due to COVID-19 impacts.
Clifton Cultural Arts Center - The group supports the arts in our community of Clifton in Cincinnati. Through many annual and special events, they make it a more enjoyable place to live for everyone.
Cincinnati Lab Rescue - A volunteer group that takes in and arranges adoptions for abandoned dogs. We’ve adopted two dogs through this group and my wife and younger daughter regularly volunteer with there (see Rey on the left and Blue on the right in the photo above).
The New School Montessori - A small but amazing learning institution that my children attended through 6th grade. I was on the Board for years and my wife was a very active volunteer. It’s a community of diverse, committed families, and we believe the Montessori method has been a key to our children’s success in life.
The Duke Chronicle - The independent news organization of Duke University. I went to undergrad there and worked in the Business Office for three years. I valued my experience and find it to be a nice way to support the next generation of students.
Emily K Center - I got exposed to this effort when I went to Duke for a basketball camp for old guys like me. It’s run by coach Mike Krzyzewski in support of K-12 students in Durham, NC. I greatly admire Coach K and am inspired by seeing what he and Duke overall have done to positively impact Durham since my college days.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society - A family friend suffers from this disease and each year leads a fund-raising campaign to support research so that future generations will not suffer her fate.
Hope for Justice - Early in our research around Hearty I came across Katrina Collier, an industry expert in recruiting. She offers to contribute her time in support of this cause—to end human trafficking.
Focus on Tanzanian Communities - We discovered this group during a safari trip a few years ago. It was created by previous guests of Thomson Safaris. We got to see the need for and benefit of their efforts first-hand during our trip, and we love to stay connected through this organization.
Carpet for a Classroom - A friend shared this worthy cause of a first-grade teacher in a public school struggling with budget issues. A group of us helped fund her class carpet, and more.
Wounded Warrior Project - A relative led a campaign for this cause and we gladly contributed both to support her initiative and because we have had multiple family members serve—and suffer.
Looking back on this list, I realized that we’re not being purposely strategic. But there are some guidelines. We tend to support organizations where we have had some personal involvement, seeing or feeling the impact first-hand. That helps us trust that the dollars are being used wisely, and makes us feel more connected. We are believers in repeat giving. And I have a personal rule that any friend that is doing a fund-raiser and asks for donations will get them. I love to be the first donor on those—in part because I know how awkward it can feel when asking for support.
Keep Sharing and Caring
I plan to continue exploring and expanding our efforts to give back to others in the years ahead. Last year my wife, Stephanie, came up with a great idea of an annual donation that each of our family members got to pick out. It’s a new family tradition that we can look forward to each year. Looking ahead, I’m interested in the concept of setting up recurring donations—after all, most of the causes above are “repeats” and it can save time and save the organizations the cost of sending countless reminders.
I hope that this is a topic that my friends and I can increasingly discuss together. I’m truly interested in other meaningful causes and contribution strategies. Our networks can be tapped to touch the world in so many powerful ways.
Now, go give to a cause you believe in—and make sure to tell the rest of us about it!