Monday, December 12, 2011

What's the season about again?

"Tonight's the night we'll make history... honey you, and ... my year-end charitable gift contributions for 2011." (OK, I'm a child of the 70s. You get extra points in my book if you know that musical reference.)

Yes, I'm one of those people who makes a few contributions throughout the year, but really takes a look at the whole giving picture each December and decides how to divvy up my contributions. How do I make my decisions?

(1) What are my top three charitable giving priorities, and are my gifts aligning with these priorities? My priorities for this year are: cancer-related causes, local hunger and homelessness causes, and the youth group for which I serve as a Board member. I'll give to other things, as well, but these three priorities get the biggest piece of the pie.

(2) How did my business do this year, compared to last year? Do I have as much (or, hopefully, more) to give away? How do my expenses compare from last year to this year, and are there big expenses coming up in the first quarter of 2012? Can I at least match, if not exceed, last year's giving?

(3) I keep a spreadsheet of each year's charitable giving, and I keep a file folder right next to my desk where I keep all of the mail solicitations that I receive throughout the year, as well as items I have read in magazines, newspapers, etc. I look over the list of what I gave to last year to decide if I want to give to them again, and I look at the mailings and clippings to see if I want to add any new charities to the mix.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not giving away bajillions of dollars here! But I like to have a focused approach, and I like to keep my priorities and intentions in mind when making these decisions.

"The Best of Times!"

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How will you be GIVING?

There are lots and lots of ways to put the GIVE back into Thanksgiving. Even if you didn't sign up to serve food at a homeless shelter on Thanksgiving, you can still find ways to give back on the holiday - no planning required. For example:

* Make an online donation to a local food bank or soup kitchen.
* Pick up trash at a park or stream.
* Check in on an elderly neighbor or friend.
* Go through your closets and gather gently used clothes to donate - drop them off at one of those parking lot donation bins.
* Ask everyone at your Thanksgiving table to name their favorite charity - email the list with URLs out to everyone that night or the next morning.
* Put leftover cans, disposable metal tins, and paper goods in the RECYCLING instead of the trash.
* Are you driving somewhere tomorrow? Just for kicks, drive at the speed limit, and let someone merge into your lane, for Pete's sake. Safer driving helps EVERYONE.
* Say thank you to someone. Especially someone who does not expect it.
* Go through your bookshelves and gather a few books, in good condition, to donate to your local library.

I need a 10th item for this list. Any suggestions?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Toucan Sam Relents and Shows Some Love

(logo of the Maya Archeology Initiative)

According to this article in The Detroit News, Kellogg Co. has decided to drop its threatened lawsuit against the Maya Archeology Initiative for the use of the Initiative's logo - which includes an image of a toucan that Kellogg's said was too close to its Toucan Sam - and will now donate $100,000 to the San Francisco-based nonprofit. The donation will help establish a Mayan Cultural Center in Peten, Guatemala.

Personally, I don't think the Maya Archeology Initiative's logo looks a darn thing like Toucan Sam. I never would have confused the two, and I bet it cost this organization a lot of time and money to deal with this issue. Bummer.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

If I had a billion dollars...

Local gajillionaire and philanthropist Bill Conway, co-founder of the Carlyle Group, wants to give away $1 billion before he dies, and he wants your suggestions for how to do it.

Please note:
* He does not want to finance your vacation, your home, or your plastic surgery
* He's interested in job creation for the poor and/or ideas that will create long-term change, rather than short-term, stop gap activiites

You can read more about his query HERE, and you can email him your ideas at Write your ideas in the comments section of this blog, too!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Washington Post "On Giving"

The Washington Post just launched "On Giving," which is:

a new section devoted to coverage of corporate giving and social responsibility, social entrepreneurship, charitable actions and personal finance. The section features original Washington Post reporting and guest contributions from philanthropists, global development leaders, social entrepreneurs, academics and researchers.

The content so far looks great! Wish me luck in not totally giving in to this new procrastination tool. :)

Monday, November 07, 2011

TEDx Tidbits - Helping People to Live in Light

Another great idea I heard about at TEDx Midatlantic was the Isang Litrong Liwangan/A Liter of Light project, an AMAZING initiative to bring light and safety to people living in emprovrished areas. Check out this video - it is totally worth 2 minutes and 18 seconds of your time.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

When you think "Lady Gaga," you think "Harvard University," right?

Lady Gaga, Harvard University, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the California Endowment have announced the launch of the Born This Way Foundation, a new organization that will focus on youth empowerment and bullying. Lady Gaga said in a statement:

"Together we hope to establish a standard of Bravery and Kindness, as well as a community worldwide that protects and nurtures others in the face of bullying and abandonment."

Bravery and Kindness. I love that. I especially like that the foundation will focus not just on stopping bullying, but on empowering and building the self-confidence of young people. I've always felt that there was a piece missing from today's anti-bullying efforts. Yes, we need to stop bullying. But we'll never really stop it, because bullying has gone on as long as there have been kids and schoolyards. We ALSO need to help kids to become more self-confident and resilient.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

TEDx Tidbits - We are HOW we eat

One of my favorite TEDx speakers was Jose Andres. This superstart chef is well-known to foodies in DC and beyond. He is the creator of Think Food Group, which includes such restaurants as Zaytinya, Cafe Atlantico, Oyamel, Minibar, and Jaleo.

He talked about creativity, and the need to move beyond our comfort zones to what we DON'T know. His creative approach to helping us experience foods in new ways is a great illustration of his approach.

He's also passionate about finding new, better ways to feed the world. For example, he talked about the fact that we've been cooking with fire for thousands of years, but this way of cooking costs people in the developing world their education (kids have to miss school to gather wood and charcoal), their safety, their jobs... He has traveled to poor and developing communities to introduce people to clean cook stoves, solar stoves, etc. Andres shared a powerful quote with us:

"The destiny of nations depends on the manner in which they feed themselves."
-Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

TEDx Tidbits - Those annoying squiggly words actually do some good!

This weekend, I had the good fortune to attend TEDx Midatlantic, a super-inspiring day of "leading thinkers, activists, artists, philosophers and entertainers from the MidAtlantic region." Each of these amazing speakers - scientists, artists, doctors, educators, chefs, and more - shares their most influential ideas and innovations in 18 minutes or less. It's an intense day, but it's such a rush to hear and share so many great ideas! Over the next few blog posts, I'll be sharing some of my favorite TEDx Tidbits, ideas that can change your life or change the world...

On of my favorite talks was given by Luis von Ahn, who was described as a "crowdsourcing innovator." He started by showing this image at the top of this page, which makes most of us cringe. How many times have you tried buying tickets or making a purchase online, only to be faced by those annoying squiggly words. Half the time, I have no idea what the letters are! Ugh.

Well.... Luis von Ahn invented that.

It was originally invented to keep robots (is that the right word? I'm so old-school) from buying, say 10,000 tickets to a concert that you and I want to go to. Which also would be annoying. The squiggly words ensure that a human, and not a machine, is buying a ticket.

Luis said that at first he felt great about his invention, but then he started to feel guilty. It takes the average person 10 seconds to fill out that form, called a Captcha. He realized that millions of hours were being lost every year (150,000 hours of work each day) through this process, by people all over the globe, and he thought to himself: How can I use this program for the greater good? That's when reCAPTCHA was born.

There is a huge, worldwide effort to digitize books, which will eventually make books more accessible to a far greater number of people. Scanners are used to digitize the books, but the scanners can't read all the words. Especially with old books, there are words that are smudged, there are words where the ink had faded, etc. Around 30% of the words cannot be read by the scanners. That's where reCAPTCHA comes in.

When you get a CAPTCHA, there are two words. One of those words is a straight-up CAPTCHA word, which is randomly selected and helps figure out if you are human. The other word is a word from a digitized book that a scanner could not read. When lots of people fill in the letters, they are essentially voting on what they think that word is. When reCAPTCHA gets enough agreed-upon answers, that word in the book can be officially digitized.

Now hang on to your hat: 900 MILLION people worldwide have helped digitize books through this process. That's 13% of the world population!

What an incredible idea! Definitely makes me fill better about the squiggles...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Can you hear the teeth rotting?

In honor of Halloween, the awesomely-fun-yet-dentally-nightmarish holiday, how about making a gift to the Children's Dental Health Project, an organization dedicated to bringing high quality oral healthcare to every child in America. Thanks to CDHP's and its partners' efforts, as many as 10 million kids have gotten dental insurance; many of these kids are from poor families who otherwise could never afford oral health care.

How about donating a dollar for every piece of candy you give to a kid tonight? You can donate to CDHP HERE.

Image: digitalart /

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

TSF's night out!

One of my favorite non-profits (OK, full disclosure - I'm on the steering committee!), the Tranquil Space Foundation, had it's 5th annual fundraiser earlier this month. We shared stories from some of our grantees and raised funds to support programs for women and girls. Check out photos and videos from the TSF celebration HERE.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Can this cup change America? (more than it already has...)

Have you heard? Starbucks is teaming up with the Opportunity Finance Network in the Create Jobs for U.S.A. program. The program "will provide capital grants to select Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). The CDFIs will provide financing to underserved community businesses which include small business loans, community center financing, housing project financing and microfinance."

You can donate at your local Starbucks or online starting on November 1. And no, I am not getting any free mochas from Starbucks for writing about this! I just like the idea of a big American company helping small American businesses. Microfinance right here at home.

(of course, Kiva does this, as well, but most of their work is outside of the US... Do you know of other ways that Everyday Joe's like you and me can make donations to support small businesses? In addition to "buying American"?)

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Ah, autumn. Time of crisp air, changing colors, and falling leaves... (I snapped this photo today in Rock Creek Park). What a great time to think about volunteering to help preserve and protect the trees you love!

A few organizations that I like are the Audubon Naturalist Society (with a sanctuary just a short bike ride from from my home) and the Sierra Club (with whom I volunteered in Vieques, Puerto Rico a few years ago).

What are your favorite tree-hugging charities?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Top Ten Reasons Dave Rocked Last Night

Despite what you may think about his personal shenanigans, David Letterman did a great thing last night. He hosted Bettina Luescher of the World Food Programme to talk about the devastating famine that is happening right now in the Horn of Africa, and ways that you can help out. Check out the video!

Here's a link from the Late Show web site to donate to the World Food Programme, specifically to fight hunger in the Horn of Africa.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Calling All Aunts! (and Uncles!)

Lately, I've been reading a bunch of stuff from Melanie Notkin, the founder of Savvy Auntie, "the first community for cool aunts, great aunts, godmothers, and all women who love kids." Savvy Auntie has a book, web site, Facebook page, etc. with all sorts of fun resources for Aunts.

I was perusing the web site and found that it has a Good Deeds section, filled with all sorts of charitable/volunteer activities you can do with your nieces, nephews, or young friends. Everything from going to the local Humane Society to play with the animals, to making care packages for the troops, to just doing good deeds for the people in your family.

Great resource!

P.S. Check out the photo above of me and my delicious, loves-of-my-life nieces....

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Twenty Percent of American Children Living in Poverty

Yes, you read that correctly. 20% of children in the wealthiest and most powerful democracy in the world are living in poverty. And that statistic is based on 2009 numbers; given the state of the economy since then, there likely are more than 20% living in poverty.

This kind of makes me re-think some of my own philanthropic choices. Should I be giving to overseas disasters, or should I focus on the DISASTER of poverty that is happening in our own country? And what exactly should I give to? Poverty is a complex problem with complex causes and impacts: should I give to hunger-related organizations? Vocational training for parents, so that they can lift themselves and their children out of poverty?

Read more about these newly-released statistics HERE, or get the original data from the annual KIDS COUNT survey HERE.

Monday, August 15, 2011

What does GENEROSITY mean?

I've been doing some thinking about the idea of GENEROSITY. What does it mean?

In the context of fundraising, we often think of a generous donation as a large donation. But is generosity in the eye of the beholder? In other words, if a donation is meaningful to me (is in an amount that I can feel proud of, or an amount that is a bit of a "stretch"), does that make it generous?

The Jewish Federations of North America have a slogan that I really like: Live Generously. I don't know if it's been successful for them (if it's raised additional funds), but I think it's provocative and interesting.

What does it mean to "live generously"?

What do we mean when we talk about "generosity of spirit"?

If we donate money, but we are not sharing our other gifts with the world - our talents, our humor, our insights, our quirky world views - are we living generously?

Wikipedia - my favorite source for, well, just about everything - says the following about the word GENEROSITY:

The modern English word "generosity" derives from the Latin word generĊsus, which means "of noble birth," which itself was passed down to English through the Old French word generous. The Latin stem gener– is the declensional stem of genus, meaning "kin," "clan," "race," or "stock," with the root Indo–European meaning of gen being "to beget." The same root gives us the words genesis, gentry, gender, genital, gentile, genealogy, and genius, among others.

Brilliant! "Kin, clan, race, or stock"... and "to beget." GENEROSITY is related to a sense of interconnectedness, with being part of a clan. And GENEROSITY also is related to "beget" - creating, or birthing something. When you are generous, you are actualizing the notion of being a part of a clan, and you are creating, or begetting, something. You can feel connected AND leave your mark/legacy through generosity!

What does GENEROSITY mean to you?

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Denzel and Ricky and Justin... oh my!

What do Denzel Washington, Ricky Martin, Justin Bieber, Fran Drescher, Rachel Zoe, Richard Gere, Jewel, and scores of other "beautiful people" have in common? Find out HERE.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A childhood charity icon

The Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) Telethon was soooooooo a part of my childhood! I vividly remember watching all of the musical acts, watching that electronic board to see how much money was raised (didn't the board have a name? a female name?), and collecting money to donate. I actually remember putting an envelope full of NICKLES, yes nickles, into my mailbox. It must have weighed 5 pounds.

As you may have heard, Jerry Lewis is retiring from the MDA Telethon. He'll still serve as National Chairman of MDA, but no more MDA all-nighters for this 85 year old icon. He has raised BILLIONS of dollars for this worthy cause, and I'd venture a guess that he inspired millions of people in America to make their very first donation to charity.

Hats off to Jerry Lewis! And a big, big thank you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Giving to Alabama

I just made a donation to the Mid Alabama Region American Red Cross, to help the victims of the recent tornadoes.

Join me! It'll feel good. I promise.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Admitting Failure

Engineers Without Borders Canada is taking part in (or launching?) a new trend in the nonprofit world: admitting failure. Rather than trying to sweep failures under the rug, the organization started a web site, Admitting Failure, where they talk about their own project failures and encourage others to do the same. That way, the whole field can learn from its mistakes,improve projects and processes, and encourage innovation.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fly Like A G6

File this under "taking something that went horribly wrong and turning it into something great"...

The American Red Cross took this tweet that accidentally went out under its twitter account:

"Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head's Midas Touch beer... when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd"

and turned it into a PR coup. More details HERE.

And for your viewing/listening pleasure, here's the Far East Movement song that's inadvertently found its way into this philanthropy story.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Right Brain Business Plan feature

The awesome Jennifer Lee just featured me in her blog. I'm honored to be a part of it! Check it out HERE.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Madonna's well-intentioned failure

The failure of Madonna's efforts to build a much-needed school in Malawi is less about Madonna (as far as I know), and more about some key issues in celebrity-driven efforts at international development. This according to an article in The Guardian.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Japan relief

Japan devastation. Totally unbelievable. And nowhere near over.

You can CLICK HERE to make a donation to the people of Japan through the Red Cross.

Here's a nifty new way to give: Apple has created a giving icon on the home page of the iTunes store. Just look for the box with the red cross in the middle. It's still a donation to the Red Cross, but you won't receive any receipt or communications from the Red Cross. You'll get an email receipt from iTunes. Basically, it's a way to make a donation for the hyper-lazy (like me) who don't even want to fill in their credit card info online. Cool!

Let's all pray for the people of Japan.

Monday, February 21, 2011

best job ever

I have spent the last week learning about/writing about/raising money for: design and architecture as solutions for problems facing American cities; mechanical engineers helping communities in developing countries access clean water, safe shelter, and electricity; helping urban immigrant youth excel in American schools; bringing safe and affordable oral health care to every child in the US...

I have the best job ever.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Wisdom from Jay-Z

I recently read Jay-Z's book, Decoded, which was one of the best books I've read in the last year. It's part biography, telling the story of his life, and part "decoding," or explaining, the poetry of his rap lyrics.

In parts of the book, Jay-Z talks about the public housing projects where he grew up, known as Marcy. Some of my clients (nonprofit organizations) assist people living in housing projects, and/or people living at or below the poverty line. I thought that Jay-Z had some important things to say about where he grew up, and I wanted to share them. I was particularly struck by his description of dealing with government agencies and bureaucracies, as some of the organizations I work with spend enormous amounts of time helping poor people to navigate these government systems:

In places like Marcy there are people who know the ins and outs of government bureaucracies, police procedures, and sentencing guidelines, who spend half of their lives in dirty waiting rooms on plastic chairs waiting for someone to call their name. But for all of this involvement, the government might as well be the weather because a lot of us don't think we have anything to do with it - we don't believe we have any control over this thing that controls us...

Housing projects are a great metaphor for the government's relationship to poor folks: these huge islands built mostly in the middle of nowhere, designed to warehouse lives. People are still people, though, so we turned the projects into real communities, poor or not. We played in fire hydrants and had cookouts and partied, music bouncing off concrete walls. But even when we could shake off the full weight of those imposing buildings and try to just live, the truth of our lives and struggle was still invisible to the larger country. the rest of the country was freed of any obligation to claim us. Which was fine, because we weren't really claiming them, either.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Bono - rock star in more ways that one

I loved watching my friend-from-back-in-the-day Sheryl Sandberg interview Bono at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Everyone knows Bono is a rock star... by now, I think everyone knows that he's a philanthropy rock star, too. They discuss poverty, debt relief, government corruption, the intersection of music and activism, and much, much more. Way to go, Sheryl! Bono, as usual, you inform and inspire us. Call me! :)

Watch the interview HERE.