How to Ruin Your Whole Day

“Don’t read the comments.” It’s something I say frequently to my wife, especially when reading an article online on a topic that she cares about. Even just a short amount of scrolling through the comments is enough to ruin your whole day. People can be incredibly mean-spirited about any issue and are quick to come up with witty remarks to discredit and embarrass. It’s just easier and less taxing to not engage in it.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take my own advice and it just about did ruin my whole day. I was reading an article about Andrew Forrest and how he made the largest philanthropic donation in Australian history. $400 million. Unbelievable. To a number of different causes which is ultimately going to impact thousands, if not millions of people. This was a day to celebrate with joy and laughter. But then I read the comments.

Andrew was accused of many things and hatred was heaped on him about issues of tax evasion right through to grandstanding. All I felt was sadness. Now Andrew is a big boy, he can look after himself and I don’t think comments on the internet will have an effect on him, but my sadness was more about the state of our culture and how we respond to people doing good things. Again we see the pervasive tall poppy syndrome rearing its ugly head, as attempts are made to tear down anyone who shows any sign of leadership or a desire change the world. I hate that part of our culture. We complain about a shortage of strong leaders in politics and business, but we kill them off before they have a chance to develop. Surely there is a way we can foster an environment where we can develop strong leaders without expecting perfection or begrudging them when they are doing well.

No living person in the history of Australia has done anything like this. It is without precedence. But at the same time it is not an isolated event. There are a number of wealthy Australians who give consistently and generously, but they like to fly under the radar. We wish that they wouldn’t. Generosity is something that we should celebrate. The more we know about it the more we can celebrate it and normalise it. The hope is that because Andrew and Nicola Forrest have opened up about what they are choosing to give away, others will begin to do the same. The more we can normalise generosity, the more generous we will become and that is how we change the world.

 

Generosity Gym

The idea of a fresh start is appealing. A clean slate from which we can start again to create the life that that we want.

In theory that is what the new year brings to us every December 31. As part of that process of renewal, I am sure that ‘join a gym’ is on the list of many people thinking about what a healthy lifestyle looks like for them. I have known many people who joined a gym, signed up to fitness classes or purchased a bike/treadmill/weights with the greatest of intentions. For some it has worked, but for the majority it has been less than successful and they are left questioning their wisdom and financial outlay. Perhaps you have been there yourself and that is something you remember as you think about what can be different in 2017.

Now it can be easy to use these experiences to justify not trying for any change in 2017, saving yourself money and time, but let me encourage you to still join the gym. It’s a new kind, which doesn’t require you to learn how to use fancy equipment, stand next to super fit and healthy people or feel any guilt whatsoever. I call it the Generosity Gym (patent pending…may need a catchier name) – a place where you train yourself through giving. There is such a thing as a ‘giving muscle’ and just the same as any other muscle, if don’t use it, you lose it. The benefits are numerous, including feeling good about yourself and your place in the world and making the world a better place for others. Working out your giving muscle actually makes life better.

Instead of paying out large sums of money for a membership to a corporation that you will most likely have to cancel anyway, you can pay that money to an organisation that is changing the lives of mothers living in poverty, by empowering them through a small loan. What better way to start the new year than by using what you have to reach out beyond yourself for the benefit of others.

It doesn’t take much either, $70 can provide 1 loan for a mother living in poverty in India, Indonesia or the Philippines. This will enable her to start a business, put food on the table and send her children to school. The average price of gym memberships in Australia is $65 a month, so you could potentially provide a loan every month and with a repayment rate of 98% the impact is ongoing.

If you are still keen to join the gym and are convinced that you can see it through, you’ll be happy to know that you can look after your body and give generously at the same time.

Happy New Year!

 

Don’t Be Stingy.

I feel the tension at this time of year. Often the news will report on how many billions of dollars that Australians spend on Christmas related paraphernalia, gifts, food etc. and it is hard to stomach. Whilst giving gifts to each other is great, the sheer enormity of some of the unnecessary stuff that we buy sets my thought process into a negative place where I imagine what that money could do if it was spent in other ways. How much emergency aid and relief it could give, how many small loans could be distributed to those living in poverty so they can start a business, or how many refugees that could house. We could choose to put our money towards these things, but we choose to spend it on Christmas. That’s what we want to do.

The tension I feel is related to celebrations and how important they are in building relationships, strong communities and social capital. It is incredibly valuable to celebrate the annual festivals that we have in our calendar, because that is a part of our culture and makes up some of our identity.

So I sit with the tension.

Then I realise that it is ok that this tension exists. Because it is not necessary for us to choose between the two options. We don’t have to be generous with our money to care for the poor at the cost of celebrating. We also don’t have to celebrate Christmas and leave the poor outside, cold and hungry. We can do both.

There is a strong Jewish tradition which encourages the people, when celebrating festivals, to do so with your family, friends and household, and to extend it even further than that.

“This festival will be a happy time of celebrating with your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows from your towns.” Deuteronomy 16:14

They have a good balance. One that says we have the freedom to celebrate and enjoy the festivities together without the feeling of guilt, because this is good for us, our families and our community. At the same time, we can find ways to be generous to the poor in our celebrations. How this is done is non-prescriptive. Some people I know buy gifts that empower the poor on behalf of others, others host countless people for a Christmas meal, and still others volunteer their time on Christmas day. What it looks like for you is your call. But let me encourage you to find a nice balance this year, where you can celebrate and be generous to the poor at the same time.

So, don’t be stingy with your celebrations, and don’t be stingy with your generosity this Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Electricity Isn’t Sexy…

It’s not, to most of us.

When it comes to not-for-profit organisations, the majority of people are not excited by the idea of lights being turned on, or computers and printers being plugged into the wall. To be honest, the imagery isn’t great and it reminds me of the tedium one would experience if they worked at Dunder Mifflan in Slough.

What excites me, and most people that I talk to, are stories of transformation where money given to a charity has changed the life of the recipient, or rescued them from a dire and needless situation. People being helped and receiving love because of a gift. That’s what fundraising is all about. Leave the information about electricity out of it.

I’ll let you in on a secret – electricity make the stories come to light (not even an intentional pun…). Without lights and power for computers and printers, then the stories of transformation and life altering development work simply would not exist. You can’t tell a story without the means to discover a need, figure out how to meet that need and then assess how it all went in your attempts to do that. Guess what? It all takes electricity.

Electricity is just one example of the un-sexy side of charities and not-for-profits. There are also reports and spreadsheets (oh so many spreadsheets) and emails. All of this, plus much more, works together to create the brilliant outcomes of transformation and then to tell people the story.

The un-sexy stuff is what most people call the “admin costs”. I know of some people who donate to charities and request that their entire donation amount goes towards covering the “admin costs”. Electricity, among other things. They are unusual but they are not strange. They understand that even though it seems un-sexy, it is absolutely vital to the work in the field. In the case of Opportunity International, the 4 million clients who currently have a small loan to start a business and work their way out of poverty, simply would not be able to do that if it wasn’t for the ‘admin cost’. Funding the un-sexy stuff in the office is part of the bigger picture of how we change the world.

Peanuts = Monkeys

I feel like we have all heard it said, ‘You have to spend money to make money’. This is true on many levels, but how do we feel about that when it is used in reference with a not-for-profit organisation? Can charities say that?

Let’s think of it this way – if there is a charity that no one has ever heard of, they will not receive any funding. A charity that has second rate staff is not going to create trust and therefore will not receive ongoing funding. A charity that is not working effectively because of lack of resources is going to waste money and will not receiving ongoing funding.

Dan Pallotta called this issue out in his TED talk (you should really watch it). The way we think about charity is wrong.

“You want to make 50 million dollars selling violent video games to kids, go for it, we’ll put you on the cover of wired magazine, but you want to make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria you are considered a parasite yourself.” Dan Pallotta

Somewhere along the line we have decided that we need to choose between either doing well for ourselves and our family or doing good for the world and that somehow these two outcomes cannot exist within the same paradigm. It’s a belief system that makes sure that charities and other not-for-profits don’t grow too big and challenge the power of the for-profit sector.

Dan points out that this mentality can be traced back to the religious experience of penance from 400 years ago. There is a long history of making money and then carrying a feeling of guilt because a profit was earned. Some of that guilt was warranted as the profit was earned off the backs of slaves and the poor, but some of the guilt was an unnecessary burden placed on people because of their understanding of who God is. Regardless of the reason, giving to charity was the method used to ease one’s conscience. Charity, therefore, could not turn a profit because then it would cease to serve the purpose of paying for the individuals ‘sinful’ money making. Whilst I would suggest that much of the thinking around business and turning a profit has changed, the feeling about charities spending too much money, getting too big, or their employees earning too much has not.

It is important to be wise with the money that people give but our thinking does need to shift. Overhead costs, including staff wages, are part of the program costs and ‘admin’ is not a necessary evil which we don’t like to acknowledge. It is part of the program itself.

If you pay peanuts you will get monkeys. It may not be true all the time. Some may take a pay cut to work in the nonprofit sector for a period of time but you will always lose the good ones eventually. Our society shouldn’t have to make the choice between doing well for themselves and their family, or doing good for the world. They are not mutually exclusive.

Money, Sex and Chocolate…wait, what?

Often people will give a long list of benefits for giving money away, including the amount of help that it provides to people who are ‘less fortunate’.

But ultimately you should give money away because it is good for you. It makes you happy. True story.

There have been a number of studies done and they tell us these things…

Donating to charity makes us feel good. One study found that when people donated to a worthy cause the area of their brain responsible for cravings and pleasure rewards ‘lit up’. That is the same area of the brain that is active during sex and consuming chocolate; meaning that there is a pleasurable feeling when we give money away. The same study tells us that giving money away gives us the same feeling as ingesting an addictive drug or learning you have won the lottery. It’s good.

Secondly, giving to a worthy cause increases our happiness.

In another study, a group of people were given some money, either $5 or $20. One group was told to spend the money on themselves, by paying a bill or spending it on some sort of an expense or even a gift for themselves. The second group was instructed to spend the money on someone else or to make a charitable donation. The end result was that at the end of the day the second group was happier. Yep. The group that spent the money on someone else or made a charitable donation had a brighter perception of the world than the first group who spent the money on themselves.

The secret is that people feel good about themselves when they give, it strengthens social connections and the good feeling of giving lasts longer than the ‘hit’ we receive when we buy something for ourselves.

So, giving money away makes us feel good and makes us happier people, and it is cheaper and less damaging than addictive drugs. This is brand new information but sometimes we forget these things.

Want to feel good? Looking to be happier? Why not give some money now – www.opportunity.org.au