Give like Bill Gates without going broke: Small donations with big impact.

Have you ever met someone who is so dynamic and so articulate about their passion for a cause that you just want to say, “That’s it. Where do I sign up?” Well, this is how I felt when I met Wendy Smith, writer, speaker, non-profit consultant and fundraising extraordinaire earlier this year at the ShotAtLife volunteer summit.

Wendy is author of a popular book and founder of a companion website called Give A Little and she advises non-profit organizations on how to broaden their donor bases. The underlying passion of her work though is to educate the public about how small donations from every day people (that’s you and me) can transform the world.

I sat down with Wendy to learn why she is so passionate about giving and what parents can do to teach their children about generosity.

Tell me a little bit about the book “Give a Little: How Your Small Donations Can Transform Our World.” What inspired you to write it?

I had worked in the non-profit community a long time and I wanted to write a book about the sector. It was going to be a totally different book about the flaws in the business model of non-profits. Then I started reading a book about these amazing programs. I heard about this project called, Bridges to Prosperity  a group that builds foot bridges. One story was about a guy who raised money to build a footbridge across the Nile River. Then I heard about the Nothing But Nets campaign to eradicate malaria. These are incredible stories.

So that compelled you to write the book?

Yes. Then I came across the stats on giving following the devastating tsunami in Indonesia. Half of all the $6.2 billion raised in aid came from small donations from individuals. American individuals gave in record numbers in $50.00 increments. Americans are incredibly generous but don’t know it! I wanted to share this information and empower people. I wanted to give them the truth!   I wanted to dispell the myths that only the very wealthy, celebrities and big foundations can make a difference and share what I was learning. It was really revealing and such an exciting reveal.

I’m amazed by the statistics of individual giving. Why do you think individual giving is so powerful?

In 2010 $220 billion was given by individuals to non-profit organizations. $100-$110 billion of that came from non-wealthy (earning less than $200k a year) household.   My experience talking to non-wealthy donors is they give because they are moved by something. Even though we have this boot-strap philosophy in the US, we are very concerned about our neighbors! One of the most moving statistics to me is that in this recession non-wealthy people have continued to give and even give more to charity than they were giving  previously. There is something about crises that really moves people.  At the end of the year people are writing checks  and that’s creating a mountain of giving. And now we have the internet and that is making giving even easier. 

What would you say to the person who doesn’t think they can make a difference because they don’t have a lot of money to contribute?

There are a lot of people who live pay check to pay check who give. They give through their children’s school, through church. There are lots of ways we take care of one another that don’t get counted.

Why do you think we are so enamored of “famous” philanthropists? I’m thinking Bill Gates for example, but many of us don’t see that we could have a similar impact (albeit on a smaller scale)?

They give big numbers and we love celebrities. I worry though that people think their $50 won’t make a difference. I wish more celebrities would come out and say, “Your $50 is important too.” It’s fantastic that with people with a lot of means give a lot, but we also need to be more educated about how people of average means give a lot too.

Many parents (me included) want to teach their children about giving – of time and money. What’s the best way to get started?

It starts by being an example and letting y0ur children see your acts of generosity. I’ve always made a point to give in front of my kids, even a small donation at the grocery store checkout becomes a lesson.  Now it’s become a apart of their behavior and their lives. So doing and teaching by example is the first thing. And then talking to kids more and more about giving as they get  older. Schools have caught on that kids are socially aware. Kids care other about kids and their needs. It’s the culture in schools now to do service projects. It’s amazing.

You’ve been a non-profit consultant and speaker for a long time. Is there one story that stands out for you about the power of individual giving?

It goes back to a story I wrote about in my book. The Nothing But Net story is really powerful.People should read Rick Reilly’s orginal 2006 Sports Illustrated column. The response was just incredible. He asked people to give $10 and within six months they raised$1.6million dollars.  When people find out how little it costs to support some of these efforts the results can be powerful.

Now it’s your turn.  How do you teach your children about generosity? Do you have a favorite cause or charity you like to support?

Showing 8 comments
  • Wendy Smith

    Thank you very much Portia for the opportunity to talk with you! It was a pleasure meeting you in Washington, DC. Feel good knowing that kids all over the developing world are benefitting from your work with Shot@Life!

    • bossmomonline

      Wendy – one of the best parts about Shot@Life was meeting really fabulous women like you. The pleasure was all mine! I’m glad I could help spread the word about your powerful message.

  • Lloyd Smith

    After reading Wendy Smith’s Give A Little, we were inspired to select a non-profit organization to which we have been making a monthly donation every month since. Now we know that those small monthly contributions make a difference. It’s a good feeling. Thank you Wendy Smith.

    • bossmomonline

      Lloyd, I think that’s great. I think Wendy’s message is such a powerful one. That we can all make a difference even if we are just giving a small amount. I also like to think that when we do this we are putting good back into the Universe.

  • Kajsa

    Great topic! Arden has been exposed to giving of time, energy and money through a variety of sources since she was born. For one thing, I’ve either worked or volunteered wthin nonprofits, however I think the most powerful message she is exposed to is my mom’s work with Scottish Terrier Rescue. My mom is the director of the Multnomah/Calrk county area, and almost constantly has a foster rescue in her home in addition to her two “forever” rescue dogs. Arden has loved being a help with these dogs (as long as they are safe). She helps feed them, walk them, and train them. She hears their stories, and has great compassion.

    This year, when Arden turned six, I started giving her a small allowance for picking up her room, making her bed, and helping out with things around the house. To coincide with this we set up 3 money jars, labeled “Save”, “Spend” and “Share”. About 1/2 her $ goes in the save jar, and the remainder is divided between the spend and share jars. A few weeks ago, she took the money out of the share jar and gave it to my mom, unbeknownst to me until later. It wasn’t a lot of money, but she felt really great about it. The Scottie Rescue organization sent her a sweet card thanking her for her contribution. It made her day.

    I know other families who are much more involved with their kids and fundraising for a specific cause. The kids always feel good, and it’s never too early to start.

    • bossmomonline

      Kajsa – this is awesome. I really love how you’ve developed an age-appropriate way for Arden to experience the spirit of giving. I also really like your allowance strategy. I’m going to have to borrow this idea when D2 is old enough.

      • Kajsa

        The allowance strategy was loaned to me, and it seems to be working on her level. Feel free to use it! It is mentioned in the article I’m attaching here from the NY Times on the topic

        Before initiating an allowance, i did some research and I was SHOCKED by what I found. Here is an article that states what I found by going to a variety of resources…library and online. It is outrageous and true. In this day and age (& this article was posted awhile back), it is suggested by many to give your child an allowance of $1 for every year of age, every week. That would mean I was giving Arden $6 a week. RIDICULOUS! What is a six year old going to do with money flowing out of her jars? How will she learn fiscal responsibility if she can always buy the gum she wants (why not chew 3 pieces at a time, and buy that silly toy she just saw and wanted for the first time)? Anyway, this is a great article, and it discusses important topics like “do we give our kids an allowance for jobs done, or just because they are old enough?”. I don’t know if you are familiar with Suze Orman, but she is a great finance lady. She firmly believes that giving your kids $ just because they are “old enough” and then increasing it with age, not responsiblity, is one of the worst lessons we can teach our kids. I agree. But I’m kind of a hard *ss. Arden didn’t get her allowance for a month because she didn’t make her bed in the morning. Now it’s her choice…I’m not hounding her every morning, and she has stopped asking “Why don’t I get paid every day if I’m doing chores every day?” Because it is your job my dear, noone gets paid every day. She gets $1 a week, as a starting point, and she thinks it’s great.

        I know I’ve gotten off the topic of giving to great causes, but at the same time, what better cause is there, than to teach your child to appreciate money and all that it means…housing, water, health care, enjoyment. If we start at a young age, hopefully it will make a diference. Let me know what you think of the article.

        • bossmomonline

          Kajsa, thanks for the link! Yeah, I think the allowance thing has gotten out of hand. I’m a big believer that kids shouldn’t get paid to do for money what they should be doing anyway. And the whole money to incent compliance rubs me the wrong way. That said, I do think that the younger children learn to understand and appreciate the value of money, the more responsible they will be with it growing up. I love Suze Orman and think her advice is spot on. Gideon has a little piggy bank and right now I put spare change in it. He knows it’s his piggy bank and when we find a coin he knows it goes to “piggy”. I think a dollar a week for a six year old is perfectly fine. I’ll probably be a hard ass like you when Gideon is Arden’s age (LOL). I think this whole topic of saving and giving are all interrelated so I think you are teaching Arden some very important lessons!

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