How to Give Back without Giving In
I believe the world is full of people who want to do good. Whether living in the Middle East or traveling through India, China, Haiti, Philippines, or South Africa- I’ve consulted with numerous mission-minded individuals sacrificing much toward the efforts of positive social change. Back home in the U.S., most people who hear our story respond back with their own inspiring stories of philanthropy.
Often these same people ask me about which charities and non-profits need volunteers because they want to do more. They want to give to non-profits and non-governmental organizations (which are also non-profits, but larger in scope).1 But the question of where to give is an important one.
Here are a few facts about non-profits, NGOs, and incredible volunteers:
- Researchers estimate about 10 million (non-governmental organizations) NGOs across the globe, reaching to solve some of the world’s biggest problems from literacy to clean water to women’ education and peace.2
In the U.S., one out of ten people works for one of our 1.5 million NGOs, making it the third-largest industry behind retail trade and manufacturing.2
- Volunteers donate over 7.7 billion hours of work valuing about $173 billion.2
- Compared to the rest of the world, NGOs- as a unit- would make the 5th largest economy in the world.2
- About 25% of U.S. adults volunteer and the numbers continue to increase.3
- Americans donate over 1 billion dollars per day, well over 400 billion per year to charity.5
- Of the donations, 45% of donations go toward natural disaster relief, and 31% of Americans give money to organizations outside the U.S.4
In short, Americans can be incredibly generous and focused on doing good—a fact I enjoy sharing to people when they ask me about where to give their time and money. Over the years, Garry and I have asked ourselves the same questions: How and where can we do the most good? We’ve donated monies, traveled on service trips, and even began our own non-profit to support children in India, Myanmar, and Haiti. Yet often- too often- our pursuit of pure giving becomes muddled and disheartening.
When we peeled back the layers of the various groups with which we’ve worked, we have found that many non-profits and NGOs fall short.
Just in our own experience, we’ve found groups who leverage donations to take out loans for other purposes, foreign national partners who failed to report truthfully on programs, wasteful use of donations on ineffective programs, and some organizations that pay extremely high salaries to their non-profit staff. While the explanations for such activities abound, I’ve always found myself a bit skeptical.
But we chose not to use that skepticism as an excuse not to give back, although we no longer give in to the typical charitable requests that inundate us every day. Instead of saying yes to others, we began a non-profit, Priority One Worldwide, where 100% of what’s given goes to the field. All the donations are personally overseen to be used by indigenous people in partnership with the board who travels to ensure the effective use of the funds. We- on the board- pay for any overhead expenses and donate our time, talents, and resources. In this way, we assure you that it all gets to the kids. Sure, we don’t raise the money of the big NGOs and non-profits or reach as many people- but we ensure the integrity of how we give and serve. And that matters to us.
We also embarked on a journey to figure out how to do the most good with what we’ve got. Over the past 10 years, this journey has led us to poignant moments of both amazement and grief, with too many to address here (Check out my book Get Money Do Good for the full story).
But here’s the takeaway. Instead of getting money and giving money to a local charity or non-profit, the messaging for us became get money and do good ourselves.
That is, we stopped donating money to feel like we “did our part” and chose to allocate our resources and use our own talents and skills to effect true and lasting change in others’ lives.
For us, the most effective way to use our resources is to adopt, heal, and love on our 10 children adopted out of horrific situations from various places around the world. We did this to keep these children out of the trafficking industry, which preys on orphans and foster children.6. We no longer give money for someone else to use; we roll up our sleeves and jump into the mess- using our resources, talents, and heart to restore the lives of our liberated bunch. This sounds like simple parenting responsibilities, but for the needs of these children, the expenses take our breath away.
When we first adopted a sibling group of 6 from Manila, we came home and immediately went to the dentist. My little ones held their jaws out of pain and often chewed using only one side of their mouths. When we went, the dentist reported to me that they had 49 cavities and extractions- as well as orthodontic work- that had to be completed among them- a bill totaling $21,000. That’s the stuff you don’t see in the adoption videos.
The cost of raising kids who are escaping out of extreme poverty, trauma, and neglect is outrageous.
When we connect with real people in need, we see our money take on meaning in ways not possible through mere donations and charity events.
In the end, my goal is not to complain about the non-profit world. I just know it is not enough. To see the world change, each one of us needs to use our talents for-profit, so we can leverage those earnings to accomplish good around us. When we connect with real people in need, we see our money take on meaning in ways not possible through mere donations and charity events. Don’t just donate or volunteer a few hours, really take stock of your resources and talents- and how you might use these in the service of your community- local or global.
Reach out if you need ideas! We love consulting with other do-gooders bent on using their profits to change the world. Get Money, Do Good.