$10 Philanthropy: Change for Change in Ten Minutes (Part I)

Premal & Anis

$10 Philanthropy: Change for Change in Ten Minutes (Part 1)

by Anis Salvesen

The Commonwealth Club.  It sounds like some brick-walled, ivy covered institution where old people sit around and drink tea or smoke cigars.  It was really intriguing to me that they have a program called INFORUM is a division of The Commonwealth Club by and for people in their 20s and 30s, with a mission to inspire debate around civic issues. Imagine my excitement when I found out I could attend a forum there called “$10 Philanthropy: Change for Change in Ten Minutes.”

The best part?  The impressive lineup of speakers:  Darian Heyman (current Member, United Nations GAID High-Level Panel of Advisors & former executive director of the Craigslist Foundation), Premal Shah (President, Kiva),   Joe Engle ( Sales Associate, Network for Good ) and Jacob Colker, Co-founder and CEO, The Extraordinaries ).

Here is my adventure that evening:

After hopping around the lobby first on one foot, then the other, trying to change out of my tennis shoes and into my heels, I headed up to the Commonwealth Club.  I’m not sure if my pulse was racing from having run-walked for 25 minutes to get there in time, or if it was that I was really excited about the event.

So how was it?  The moderator  (Madeline Stanionis ) was excellent!  She asked some really great questions, and I jotted some of them down.   The answers given were more elaborate obviously, but I am sharing what I found most interesting.

What are some of the ways that you have seen people engage with causes?  What does the internet bring to philanthropy?

Darian:  All too often when people talk about philanthropy, really they’re talking about making donations – and certainly that is a lynch pin to the successful work of any nonprofit.  But beyond that, when you’re volunteering, when you’re joining a board…those are all acts of philanthropy.

As we move forward, there’s an increasingly large number of options in terms of how we can give back. For example, there’s a group called Full Circle Fund which practices “engaged philanthropy.”  The idea is not just giving financial capital, but also intellectual capital, social capital, political capital.

Premal:  In the case of Kiva, it’s lending, and it’s a 0% interest loan you’re making to an entrepreneur.   And when I think of online philanthropy, I think it makes it much more transparent .  In the case of Kiva, you actually get to see the end entrepreneur and where your money is going.  Contrast that to putting a check in the mail to a large organization.

Jacob: One of the most exciting things the internet has done to philanthropy is just tear down barriers.  It used to be geographic barriers .   …   Through the internet we can connect…people – not only their checkbook but also their intelligence, their passion.

How do organizations actually keep people engaged when people have so many options?

Joe:   One way that nonprofits can keep donors engaged is that they collect e-mail addresses and then also just put them in certain groups and then be really mindful of people’s time.

Jacob:  I will pull from the 2005 and 2007 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that…only 26% of the [U.S.] population actually does it [volunteers].   We have this notion that it’s the people’s fault,that we need to figure out how to get them to feel guilty about coming in and volunteering. ….

The key to keeping people and keeping them coming back is to understand your audience.  And if your audience is somebody who has to work 60 hours a week, has kids, has to run errands..who’s going to night school, four hours is really, really precious.

You have to understand your audience [bears repeating] and the limitations that they have in their lives to engaging. ..  Then you can start thinking about how to keep people engaged.

Damian:  I looked at that same study and…the average contribution of a volunteer in the US last year was 52 hours.  If you look at the increase in volunteerism over the last 20 years…for adults it’s up about a third, but for youth it’s up 200%. So volunteerism is definitely on the rise.

An interesting factoid in there is that In California they surveyed older adults who volunteer, and they found that adults who volunteer actually had about a  44% lower mortality rate.  So volunteer, you’ll  live longer.

[Back to keeping people engaged in philanthropy]

To me the main thing is its not about an extraordinary opportunity; it’s about a relevant opportunity.   It’s about connecting  with people.   And it’s about managing expectations and communicating those clearly.

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There was a Q&A, and then the presenters were gracious enough to hang around for a bit for the audience to meet them.

Here’s what happened in my case:

Oh my god, I get to meet the Premal Shah!  Is my lipstick fine?  No wait, I have to focus on more serious preparation.  Aaahhhh!  I get to meet Premal!

So I walk over to the front of the room, where some of the panelists are holding court (not that any of them were arrogant).  Naturally Premal was popular, so I chatted with another attendee who it turns out recently wrote a book about volunteering.  Anyway, I realize the photo I took of the podium was rather dull, so maybe I could get a photo of Premal.  It seemed eerily crazy-celebrity fan-like to just snap his photo, so I decided to ask if we could take a picture together – which I now realize is not that much less crazed fan-like.

Anyway, he was very gracious, and to my surprise he said “You’re from UniversalGiving, right?”   Wow!  He remembered!  Of course I had asked a question during the Q&A session, and I had said I was Anis from UniversalGiving, so I wonder if at this point I’m insulting the guy’s intelligence.  Anyway, Premal went on about Pamela and how she had helped him so much in the past.  I have no doubt of this, but I was impressed by the humility he exuded.  I mean, he’s the president of KIVA!  I’ve met guys who simply run a hamburger joint with more attitude.  It was a great evening, and I came away glad that it had not only met but surpassed my expectations.   Stay tuned for Part II!  These guys are just treasure troves of knowledge.

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