It is the time of year when my mailbox fills with year-end appeals from a multitude of charitable organizations asking me to give to the important cause they represent. I like to look at each appeal, to study the message used to tell the organization's story. I look for mention of the return on investment that I will receive for my donation -- number of people served, animals saved, trees planted. I also look for another type of return on investment that I rarely find -- the potential ripple effect of my donation.
As a fundraising professional, I get asked a lot by donors about the sustainability and the scalability of the programs I represent. Donors want to know how program interventions will lead to long-lasting change in the lives of program beneficiaries. And donors want to know how we are going to adjust our program to reach greater numbers of people. Both are very valid questions.
I rarely get asked, however, whether beneficiaries of the programs pay it forward -- whether they help others once they have been helped. This is what I call the ripple effect, an under-appreciated and under-represented type of return on investment in charitable giving.
The ripple effect is important to me for two reasons. The first is purely selfish; if I use some of my hard-earned money to try to effect change in the life of an individual that needs a bit of help, I would like that the person to repay the favor, if she is able.
The second reason is a bit more complex. I believe that sharing our knowledge, talent, kindness and resources with others strengthens us as individuals in a way that leads to stronger families and communities. When a woman who benefits from my donation turns around and helps her neighbor, I believe she changes the conversation about herself, with herself -- who she is, what value she has in the community. Her self-esteem increases and she is willing to take just a few more risks that may positively change the path of her life, that of her children and of her community. I see this as an immeasurable return on my investment.
I cannot offer up any research studies that back my theory, although I expect there have been many studies done on the effects of helping others. I have, however, come across many anecdotal examples of how individuals have been changed by paying it forward.
I have one story in particular that I like to share with donors when talking about the potential ripple effect of their gift to Trickle Up -- the organization for which I have the privilege of raising money to support livelihood and savings programs for women and people with disabilities living in ultra-poverty.
My story comes from a small village of Runga in the Indian state of Orissa. Participants in the Trickle Up program, all members of a particular savings group, came together to help a woman in their community who was traumatized after giving birth at home alone -- including cutting her own umbilical cord -- after all the midwives in the area refused to help her because she was of a minority religion. Although the woman qualified for the Trickle Up program, she was too afraid to join. Hearing this, members of the group visited the woman in her home numerous times until she felt confident enough to join the program and the savings group. With the help of program staff and the savings group members, the woman succeeded in starting a small business of goat rearing. She also took on a leadership role within the group to convince women to give birth in the hospital. Under her leadership, the savings group supports safe births for their members by providing financial support for hospital expenses and organizing transportation to the hospital for the expecting mother.
There is no doubt in my mind that because the women, who had benefited from the generous gifts of Trickle Up donors, helped the new mother, she in turn was able to help others. There is also no doubt in my mind that everyone involved in this ripple effect personally benefited by changing the conversation about who they are and how they relate to their community. That's what I call a high return on investment.
As we begin planning what we'll be supporting on #GivingTuesday and how, let us remember that our gifts will continue to ripple throughout our communities, local or global, for a long time to come.
Trickle Up empowers people living on less than $1.25 a day to take the first steps out of poverty, providing them with resources to build sustainable livelihoods for a better quality of life. In partnership with local agencies, we provide training and seed capital grants to launch or expand a microenterprise and savings support to build assets. We work in Central America, West Africa and India.
This blog is part of our #GivingTuesday series, produced by The Huffington Post and the teams at InterAction, 92nd Street Y,United Nations Foundation, and others. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday - which takes place for the first time on Tuesday, November 27 - is a movement intended to open the holiday season on a philanthropic note. Go to www.givingtuesday.org to learn more and get involved.