Making It Right

Sticking with a New Orleans theme, this week’s rainbow is Brad Pitt, founder of the Make It Right Foundation. Since December 2006, Make It Right has been working to build 150 energy-efficient, affordable, storm-resistant homes for families in the Lower 9th Ward. Make It Right is now past the halfway point, having completed just over 75 homes designed by local and international architects, including Frank Gehry (known for wavy metallic masterpieces like the Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A.). For a photo gallery and map of completed homes, click here.

Make It Right needs to raise approximately $5 million annually to complete the foundation’s 150-home goal by the target date of the end of 2013. Unfortunately, donations declined after the attention paid to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina faded and the economy tanked, going from $15 million in 2007 to $3.8 million in 2010 (the last year for which data is available). As an offering to the real estate gods, who recently allowed me to sell my condo in less than a week — a certified miracle in today’s housing market, perhaps the work of St. Expedite? — I made a contribution to Make It Right. If you’d like to support Make It Right, click here to donate. Hmmm, do you think Brad will come to my housewarming party when I get moved into my new place??

The Micro Philanthropist

I will never be a billionaire. But if I were, I hope I’d be like the 81 billionaires – ranging in age from 27 to 96 – who have committed to give the majority of their wealth to charity by taking the Giving Pledge. Each person who takes the Giving Pledge decides on the particular causes or organizations they want to support.

The latest group of billionaires who made the Giving Pledge last week includes Bill Ackman, founder of hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management. In his pledge letter, Ackman wrote:

“My earliest memories include my father’s exhortations about how important it is to give back. These early teachings were ingrained in me, and a portion of the first dollars I earned, I gave away. Over the years, the emotional and psychological returns I have earned from charitable giving have been enormous. The more I do for others, the happier I am.”

Founded by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates in 2010, the Giving Pledge focuses on billionaires but it seeks to inspire and encourage givers of all financial means and backgrounds. Thanks to innovative approaches and advances in technology, each of us, regardless of wealth, can make a lasting impact on the lives of others through donating to worthwhile organizations.

The Monthly Micro-Philanthropist

I consider myself a “micro-philanthropist” of sorts. I donate on a regular basis to FINCA, an anti-poverty organization that provides financial services to the world’s lowest-income entrepreneurs so they can create jobs, build assets and improve their standard of living. FINCA operates Village Banking programs in 21 countries in Africa, Eurasia, the Middle East and Latin America, serving over 900,000 people, 70% of whom are women. Through micro-loans from FINCA, families can invest in and build their own small businesses and income-earning capacity.

Donating to FINCA is easy by signing up for a regular monthly donation in whatever amount you choose, automatically charged to a credit card or withdrawn from a bank account. A monthly pledge of $10 can help provide a first loan for two new clients. UNICEF is another organization with a monthly giving program. By making monthly donations that are processed automatically, you can help these organizations reduce their costs and give them more proceeds to fund their programs.

eBay Giving Works

Speaking of UNICEF, they’re one of the nonprofit organizations you can support when you buy and sell items through eBay’s Giving Works program. eBay Giving Works partners with a non-profit service called MissionFish, which uses innovative technology to help nonprofits raise funds through online commerce.

As a seller on eBay, you can donate from 10 to 100% of your proceeds to organizations of your choice. You get extra exposure by being listed on eBay, the eBay Giving Works site, and the Missionfish site, and a receipt for every contribution you make will be available in your MissionFish account. As a buyer, you can search for items on the eBay Giving Works site that will benefit general causes (for example, Ending Poverty or Improving Education) or specific organizations that you’d like to support.

Cause Shop Online and Save Money

Through a site called GoodShop, you can “cause shop” online as a way to donate to charity for free AND save yourself some money in the process. GoodShop works with dozens of retailers and service providers – Apple, iTunes, Macy’s, Groupon, Travelocity, GoDaddy, Home Depot and many more – to donate a percentage of your purchase to a charity of your choice. Just choose your cause, then click on the merchants’ logos to shop online.

The merchants on GoodShop provide deals and coupons for GoodShop users, like free shipping and returns or discounts. With Mother’s Day around the corner, why not take advantage of the 15% discount being offered by 1-800-Flowers through GoodShop and donate 8%  of your purchase price to a worthwhile cause?

What’s your favorite way to experience the emotional and psychological returns of being a micro-philanthropist?

Start Something That Matters

I stumbled across Blake Mycoskie’s book, Start Something That Matters, in a profile about him in the Sunday New York Times. Mycoskie is the founder of TOMS shoes, a company that gives a pair of shoes to a person in need for every pair of shoes that it sells. More recently, he started TOMS sunglasses, which give a pair of glasses or an eye medical treatment or surgery to someone in need for every pair that it sells. Start Something That Matters tells the story of TOMS and other businesses that operate on a “one for one” model.

Reading about companies that have adopted this new approach is a breath of fresh air. The old-school corporate mindset of “greed is good” is no longer cutting it for many of us. As Mycoskie explains:

“People are hungry for success—that’s nothing new. What’s changed is the definition of that success. Increasingly, the quest for success is not the same as the quest for status and money. The definition has broadened to include contributing something to the world and living and working on one’s own terms.”

My Experience

Start Something That Matters contains lots of tips for anyone who may want to start a “one for one” business of their own. For those of us who aren’t entrepreneurs, the book provides inspiration and practical advice about giving back to the world and finding your true self in the process. One thing that particularly struck a chord with me is Mycoskie’s story about moving from a loft apartment to a 200-square-foot sailboat. The much smaller living space required Mycoskie to give away most of his belongings, and he now advises people to “own as little as you can get away with”:

“Seriously—how much do you need? The fact is, the more you have, the more effort and money you have to spend taking care of it, which distracts you from enjoying it. People tend to buy lots of luxury goods, thinking it will give them a better lifestyle, but what they really create is a drain for their time and energy as well as their savings.”

As someone with much more stuff than I really need, I had an “Aha!” moment when I read this part of Mycoskie’s story. It inspired me to go through my things and donate a good amount to charity. (More on that in next week’s post….)

Your Turn

Regardless of your circumstances, you’ll find some nuggets of wisdom in Start Something That Matters:

“Even if you’re not going to start a company that matters, you can still start something small that can be built into something that matters in a very big way. Whoever you are and whatever you do, giving is important. Start now. Start by helping other people—anyone you can. Do something simple. You don’t have to start a business or big initiative right away—you can begin just by changing your mindset. Commit to seeing the world though the lens of how you can initiate meaningful change.”

You can download Start Something That Matters on your Kindle or Ipad, or get a “regular” copy of the book. For every copy sold, a new book is provided to a child in need. To learn more about Start Something That Matters and Mycoskie, click here.