Yesterday was the UN International Day of Happiness. One of the intentional actions that I’ve posted about was my support for the Action For Happiness organisation’s focus on helping to make the lives of others more happier – you can check it out if you didn’t get a chance here http://dayofhappiness.net.

Today, just the day after the International Day of Happiness, where I did focus on trying to make the lives of others more happy (and other ‘well-being’ intentional actions), I’ve got what those of us who were raised as Catholics call ‘The Guilts’ as I’m writing this post (no offence intended… hmmm, so I’m even guilty about feeling guilty).

Now before you judge me too soon, please understand that Liz and I have a committed percentage of our income that we donate to specific charities each year. However, recently we have been inundated with phone calls from telemarketers from charities of all nature. Each and every one of them I have no doubt are noble in their causes. But we’ve recognised the phone numbers that display, and the almost cyclical timing of the calls, and we basically now just ignore them (with guilt) and let them go to the answering machine where they never leave a message, and we hear the dulcet tones of them ‘hanging up’ on us.

Quite seriously if we said yes to them all, which we would love to be able to say yes, we would go broke and not be able to say yes to any in the future… so where’s the sense in that.

And what got the ‘guilts’ up even moreso this week was my regular email I receive from the TED talks – if you’re not familiar with them got to www.ted.com and you’ll be inspired at the thought leadership that is being freely shared with the world.

Enter Dan Pollata

This week’s TED list of amazing thought leaders included Dan Pollata on “The Way We Think About Charity Is Wrong”.

I’ve embedded the video below for you to watch, and I encourage you to watch it.

Let me paraphrase just a bit of what Pollata presents.

Disney can make a movie that costs $2million and flops and no-one calls the Attorney General, but if you do a puny $1million fund raiser for the poor and if it doesn’t produce a 75% profit to the cause in the first 12 months then your character is called into question.

When you prohibit failure you kill innovation.

The problem is the question “What percentage of my donation goes to the cause versus the overhead?” Overhead is not a negative if it is being used for growth and the real problem is if charities feel guilty and therefore don’t spend money on overheads and infrastructure to grow so they can do more, (as we expect of every ‘for-profit’ company to do), charities remain in playing a smaller game than they potential can, and therefore are confined to never achieving the potential they can to change the problems of the world that they’re trying to solve in the first place.

If you were a philanthropist interested in any specific cause, what would make more sense… go out and find the most innovative researcher in the world on your cause and give her $350k for research or give her fundraising department the $350k to multiply it into $194million for research into your cause?

This is what happens when we confuse morality with frugality.

Charitable giving is about 2% of GDP in the united states which equates to $300billion per year, but only about 20% of that or $60billion goes to health and human services causes, the rest goes to religion and higher education and hospitals. Just a 1% increase in charitable giving would see an additional $150billion per year in contributions which means now we’re talking scale and now we’re talking the potential for real change.

But it’s never going to happen by forcing these charitable and cause driven organisations to lower their horizons to the demoralizing objective of keeping their overheads low.

Who cares what the overhead is if the problems upon which the cause is trying to fix are getting solved?

And finally, my take on all of this…

The not-for-profit sector is without doubt, and sadly, the 2nd cousins of ‘for-profit’ organisations and yet, most thinking people around the world would not hesitate in saying that what they aim to do is worthwhile and that they need our support and not just the support of government.

It’s pretty obvious to me that the first step that we can all make to help is to change our way of thinking about the way charities ought to ‘spend’ or is it ‘invest’ their money. One dollar saved on overheads that could have produced $10 more dollars to feed a child, build a community, find a cure, change our world is surely one dollar well invested.

Be moved by the video here…