Giving and volunteering – easy. Caring – not so much.

In learning about Austin philanthropy, there are good days and there are bad days.

Good days are when I find out from Laurie Loew of Give Realty that one of her clients wrote a big check to a local charity. “They didn’t expect it, but they told me it was such a great feeling. Like it was the best part of the whole experience.”

Bad days are when I talk Pamela Benson-Owens about her tireless and sometimes frustrating efforts to motivate people to give. And I won’t even say “give,” I think I really mean “care.”

Pamela is a force. I met her at the first See Jane Give event hosted by I Live Here, I Give Here  last year, and she was one of the table hostesses who shared what most of us would consider personal information about their finances and giving decisions. She, like Myndi Garrett who was the main speaker at that event, were the women who exposed me to the idea that giving has to hurt a little. Pamela, for example, takes her lunch to work almost every day. I know this doesn’t sound like a huge sacrifice, and maybe it’s not. But little choices like that, she says, allow her to give at the level she wants to give.

We talked for a while about how to motivate people to take an action. This is something that everybody is trying to figure out, of course. There are many board members and fundraisers out there who do a great job of getting people to write checks and show up to volunteer… but caring… how do you get people to care?

Here are some indicators, I think, of people who care:
1. They show up even when they’re not asked to show up
2. They genuinely listen and want to learn more
3. They don’t think of their needs first
4. They look for ways to help

There are probably other indicators, but the thing is I don’t think you see this from a lot of gala attendees. (Oh man, there I go with my gala diss again, sorry.)

And maybe caring isn’t what nonprofits really want. I mean, care all day but you need resources, right? You can’t stock the food pantry shelves with caring. You can’t paint the daycare with a bunch of carers, you need volunteers to pick up the paint brushes. (Caring is the first step toward volunteering, yes, but you can volunteer without caring.)

Maybe you can’t get people to care. Should we just give up? Focus on the action and less on the emotion?

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2 Responses

  1. I think one of the easiest ways to get people to care is to expose them personally to those they are helping. When someone sees another person in a dire situation and sees what they are going through, it is very difficult not to care at that point. Unfortunately many volunteer opportunities and functions do not provide this level of interaction, so it’s possible to perform them without caring.

    – Schev

  2. I agree with Schev! Creating meaningful opportunities for folks to work directly with those in need is the best way to get people to care.

    To answer your question, Should we just give up?, NEVER! In the words of Ghandi:

    “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

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