Follow-Up To 'Learning to Give With a 10-Year-Old'

My recent post on learning to give with a 10-year-old blew the top of off my twitter feed and e-mails. I feel a bit like W.C. Fields -- never share the stage with a kid or a dog.
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I never know what posts are going to cause what kind of reactions. This post on Learning to Give With a 10-Year-Old blew the top off of my twitter feed and e-mails. I feel a bit like W.C. Fields -- never share the stage with a kid or a dog.

As a learning experience for me, it only got better after posting the story. I had some great e-mail exchanges with people about why the story of the 10-year-old and his mom resonated so deeply. I had some great conversations with my own 10-year-old -- who hears about philanthropy and nonprofits and policy and social enterprise all day, every day. I heard from several people who said it was great market research for the websites they manage or are building (yes, it makes sense to listen to your users). And I talked with some folks about how important it is to keep the kids (and ourselves) engaged all year, not just at the end of the year.

I spent almost an hour on the phone with the mom in the story listening to her recount the conversations she had had with her son (and her parents) over the last few weeks as they undertook this research. Here are some of the issues about giving that the 10-year-old raised:

  • Overhead is complicated.
  • It's hard to choose between supporting a school that serves more kids less deeply or fewer kids but for far longer periods of time.
  • Some organizations are really clear about what they are doing, how, and how they are measuring it (see his "write up" below on the Homeless Prenatal Program)
  • Some organizations are not so clear. Their websites have a ton of information, but not all of it is helpful.
  • Saving the animals, saving the earth, and changing how people behave are all related.
  • Not all of the work he cares about gets done by 501c3s.
  • Giving takes a lot of thought, but in the end there is still a lot of feeling involved. It doesn't feel like there is one right answer.
  • The "Hunger 101" gadget on the website of the SF Food Bank is "magnificent and all of us, 10, 40-something, and 80-something, learned from it."

The 10-year-old sent me a four-page document answering my three questions (What is the organization trying to do? How do they do it? And how do they know if they are making a difference?) on each of 14 organizations -- 13 501c3s and a 501c5. (Hitting on a point I've been quite interested in -- where does change come from)

With his permission, and in his own words, here are some of his observations after spending 20 minutes per website for each of the organizations, plus some additional research that he did with his mom. Note that his full list included national environmental policy organizations, food systems groups, animal conservation organizations, and a labor union that organizes farm workers. I was most impressed with his ability to see connections between environmental policy, animal welfare, food safety, worker conditions, hunger, and infant health. As you'll see below, he also cares about girls' education in central Asia.

SF Food Bank

  1. This organization is trying to end hunger in San Francisco and Marin County.

  • This organization collects food and money from donors and gives food to poor people in senior/daycare centers, public schools, neighborhood pantries, soup kitchens etc.
  • We don't know how the SFFB knows if they are making progress, but volunteers and donors rate them highly (four out of five stars), and they serve about 200,000 people every year.
  • Central Asia Institute
    1. CAI builds schools, especially for girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan to raise the standard of living in poor communities (the "girl effect").

  • CAI builds schools, gives scholarships to students, pays teachers salaries, trains teachers, builds community women's centers in their schools, and supports public health projects where they work in schools.
  • The CAI website doesn't tell much about how CAI is doing, but Greg Mortensen's books convinced us that his work is very important.

  • Homeless Prenatal Program

    1. HPP helps homeless pregnant women have healthy babies and make good families.

  • They help families with babies find housing and move in.
  • To measure how well they're doing they measure the percentage of babies born at a healthy birth weight and without any drugs in their bodies
  • Note the use of ratings and stars, the references to outside sources (Greg Mortensen's books and The Girl Effect), the ability of a 10-year-old to find some information (metrics for prenatal program) and not others (metrics for SFFB). I think he knocked this project out of the park.

    After reading his friend's reviews of the different organizations, my son and I discussed the things that he would want to know about two seemingly similar programs. You may recall from yesterday that my son is not a fan of overhead costs. He read through his friend's list, and we talked about how to choose between different schools that educate girls in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, three places of great interest to my son. He knows about Room To Read and CAI. He's long sent a quarter of his annual giving budget to two orphanages in Nepal at which close friends of ours have worked, volunteered, and adopted children.

    After reading his friend's reviews and listening to my conversation with the mom, my son noted the importance of pencils, teachers, books, and chairs for the girls going to school.

    "Those things cost money," he said, "and you can't learn without them. Do they make smart decisions about pencils and books? Because I care more about the girls and what they learn. That they get to graduate. That would matter most to me," he responded. "Can we go there, to visit and help and see?" he asked.

    Ah yes, the importance of volunteering and site visits. We're saving that for our 11-year-old year-long giving circle that seems set to launch in 2011. Happy New Year.