I just got back from speaking at the Bulgarian Donors Forum annual conference in Sofia, one of our partners in Bolder Giving's new Global Donor Storytelling initiative. During my trip, I was interviewed by Vesti, one of the major Bulgarian newspapers. You can read the article (if you speak Bulgarian) or check out the original interview in English below.
Can you point out one giving story that was so touching that inspired you personally?
While there are so many stories we have collected that inspire me, one in particular that I remember when I first discovered Bolder Giving was the story of Pilar Gonzales. I found Pilar's story particularly powerful because she is not a wealthy woman, rather she has been giving very generously from her often modest salary as a nonprofit leader because she sees such need around her. I was also moved when she shared her story during the Bold Conversation we hosted with her in September 2011 by one particular experience - she shared how she was waiting in the check out line at a grocery store and a homeless man in front of her did not have enough money for the toiletries he had selected and she instantly just said that she would pay for them. He broke down in tears after, explaining that he was trying to get cleaned up to go for a job interview and try and get back on his feet. In a time when we spend so much energy thinking about big giving for long-term policy change, Pilar's story reminded me of how powerful it can be to give directly to a person in need, how important it is for us to not close ourselves off to the needs around us every day but to hold that spirit of generosity constantly.
Could you, please, explain in short what is the role and mission of Bolder Giving.
At it's core, Bolder Giving's mission is all about inspiration - we want to help people reimagine what is possible with their giving, to inspire them to be more generous and more courageous and more risk taking. We do this primarily through storytelling, we find and share the stories of people who inspire us with their giving and share those stories in the hope that they will help others reimagine what is possible as well.
Bolder Giving admits that most people rarely talk about their giving. Why is that and how do you change their minds?
I think two major things generally stop people from talking about their giving - modesty and fear. On one hand, in the United States and in most parts of the world, society teaches us that being modest is a good thing. We should not brag, we should not boast, and thus people hesitate to talk about their giving because they don't want to appear too proud. Sometimes this comes from a religious conviction and other times from social norms. On this front, I try to help people reframe their thinking about why they share their story, to help them understand that sharing their story can be an act of service itself, a way to inspire others. We work with people to help them tell their stories in ways that are not about bragging, but about inspiring. The second block is that of fear - fear that people will see them differently, that people will try to take advantage of them if they know they are wealthy or active givers, fear that it will change their relationships. In dealing with fear I first think it is critical to acknowledge that these fears are not unfounded - when you become more public about your giving and about your financial resources it will change relationships and people will ask you for money more often. But I have found that this is not something people stay afraid of, they quickly learn how to say no more gracefully as they deal with more fundraising requests and in terms of changing relationships, we often see changes for the better. The reality is that if you are wealthy, most people who know you already know or guess that you are - sharing your story can actually improve relationships as you develop relationships based on the truth of who you are and what you do rather than rumors and guesses that people believed because you were afraid to share the truth.
Bolder Giving strives to help donors become “effective, passionate, deeply-committed givers”, how would you describe an effective donor?
I think an effective donor is one whose giving helps move forward the issue or issues they care about powerfully or helps build the community they care about. I see too many donors who give impulsively or give to groups that have a good public relations team rather than learning about the work being done and finding the best groups to give to. Being an effective giver means you are a giver who takes the time to learn about the issues and the groups and then makes informed, thoughtful gifts that align with your goals.
Would you say that different societies have different giving culture and in that sense what is the giving culture in Eastern Europe?
Different societies absolutely have different giving cultures! These cultures are rooted in our history, in our government and economic systems, in our religious teachings, in the past role of civil society, and in our relationships with other cultures. For example, the US giving culture is rooted in Judeo-Christian teachings and a democratic political system and capitalist economic system that looks to civil society, charity and philanthropy to fill in the gaps of what the governmental & economic systems miss. By contrast, in much of Eastern Europe there is a strong tradition of a much more expansive government that has provided many of the social and cultural services that philanthropy covers in the US and a cultural tradition of anonymity around money and giving that is only starting to change. I do not believe that the goal is for Eastern Europe to adopt the American style of giving - that is a style that has developed over centuries that fits the United States. Rather I think the challenge today is for Eastern Europe to chart its own course - politically, economically, and socially - and to develop and build a culture of giving and a civil society that will enable to Eastern Europe to flourish in its own right.
Which are the pressing issues of the day donors in Eastern Europe should focus on?
I am not an expert on Eastern Europe and hesitate to tell donors what they should focus on when they understand the challenges and needs in their own communities better than I ever could. However, at a very general level my advice for the field is to seek diversity - giving is needed for direct services but also for long-term development of civil society and for the preservation, celebration and growth of the artistic and cultural traditions that make Eastern Europe unique. At an individual donor level, my advice for donors anywhere in the world is the same - start with your passion. There are thousands of issues you could give to, but I believe that you will become the most effective and generous giver when you first identify what issue, cause or community you deeply care about and then focus where your passion lies. You don't have to do everything, but instead building on your passion will keep you excited and push you to make the biggest and most powerful contributions you personally can make.