Changing Charity to a Charity That Changes You

It's that time of year. You're sending cards, shopping for gifts, holiday music is ringing in your ear, and you're feeling a bit of compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is what happens when there are so many people hitting you up for something. The emails come fast and furious and everyone wants you to "open your heart and open your checkbook."

Look, I have had a little too much coffee in the past few days, and caffeine can lead to cynicism, so let me rephrase. For one thing, I am one among those who are asking you for something. I want you to have a look at my IndieGoGo page for the Shelter movie and consider making a tax-deductible donation to help make the film. But, along with a few others, I'm trying to approach this whole charity thing differently -- simply by not thinking of it as charity.

Charity Reframed as Involvement

Things wouldn't run very well without charity. Governments don't have the money or the courage to support all of their subjects. Corporations can be sociopaths when it comes to serving their stockholders. So in many ways, it's up to us, ordinary citizens, to turn the karmic wheel.

But this is not about crawling up to people with hat in hand. There's a new kind of philanthropy that really has me excited -- a participatory kind that involves action as well as giving. There's a storyline to this, and it starts with the (RED) campaign. That campaign was criticized when it started in 2006 because it asked people to be activists by buying things. Was encouraging consumerism a good idea? Well, people were buying things anyway, and if they were motivated to buy Gap clothing or an Apple iPod in order to fund programs addressing HIV and AIDS, how would that be bad? When a Gap shopper buys a (RED) product, 50 percent of Gap's profits from that product go to help eliminate AIDS in Africa. Toms Shoes gives away a pair of shoes for every pair you buy. Charity: Water is bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations and a local business here in LA called Real Food Daily (a client of mine) has teamed with Charity:Water to help.

You buy a Real Food Daily holiday gift bag, and RFD will donate 100 percent of the profit to Charity:Water.

You know something is changing when when 20/20 decides to get in the game with its new program Be The Change. That tells you that the culture of philanthropy is shifting and even television programmers are hearing the message now. (In the Be the Change pilot, one of the programs profiled was Charity:Water.)

Patient Capital

Jacqueline Novogratz as founder of Acumen Fund, has pioneered a concept called patient capital. It means that when you invest a couple hundred thousand or even a couple million in a hospital in India or in technology for cleaner water in Africa, you might not get a monetary return on your investment; you might get a spiritual one. Though it might sound nuts to the bottom line types, Novogratz has made it clear that there's a different kind of bottom line to pay attention to -- the kind that makes the world a better place.

Then along comes Jumo, an invention from one of the Facebook founders (not the guy in the movie). Jumo is going to help people get behind a cause, using Facebook as a platform. Sure there have been some complaints about it because you have to get sucked into Facebook to use it, but the idea of building social capital online is unbeatable, just like Habitat for Humanity's idea of building social capital by having neighbors create a community and build their own homes.

A Sense of Collaboration

Money is always appreciated, but it's good to know you can give more than money. You can participate in a movement. On IndieGoGo, I'm trying to find ways for you to participate in the making of Shelter. No, you can't hold the camera, but you can influence the creative direction of the movie at screenings, serve on our advisory board, or you can even be in the film if you can think of something to say about shelter. (Can you?)