A lesson from World Vision

May 3rd, 2010

I recently completed a book entitled “The Hole in Our Gospel” by the current president of World Vision, Richard Stearns.

World Vision, as you likely know, is a faith-based relief, development and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. The organization annually receives more than $1 billion in donations, and many of its programs are funded through child sponsorship where private donors submit monthly donations that benefit a child, his or her family and the community.

The book may be a difficult read, for two reasons: first, Mr. Stearns does such a good job of describing need and poverty. Second, as an unapologetic Christian, Mr. Stearns believes that he and fellow believers have an obligation to not only “espouse” service to others, but to actually be actively involved in the process.

His first-hand experiences resonate with me and will with any reader who has seen true suffering first-hand. It is always interesting when you read a work such as this to step back at the conclusion and think about “the one thing;” the lesson or concept that stood out above all the rest. For me it was this.

Each chapter in the book features powerful quotes from various sources, including Christian scripture. At the beginning of chapter fourteen, an exchange from an anonymous source goes like this:

“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it.”

“Well, why don’t you ask Him?”

“Because I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”

Stearns goes on to explain a specific situation in a remote village wherein he realized that he was the solution to one family’s suffering. We could all learn from this realization.

Many of us have a very difficult time understanding how in this day and age, the world still struggles with so much need. The levels of hunger for instance, quoting Stearns’ statistics, is literally beyond comprehension in a society where restaurants and most households, throw away enough food to feed hundreds each year. Consider:

  • Roughly one in four children in developing counties is underweight
  • Some 350 to 400 million children are hungry
  • About 1 in 7 worldwide—854 million people—do not have enough food to sustain them
  • Approximately 25,000 people die each day of hunger—about 9 million people a year

As Mr. Stearns rightly warns, these statistics are so bad, they may cause a numbness to overcome the reader and instead of sparking action, they can instead induce despair and helplessness.  A simple solution to that reaction is:

You do not have to help everyone, just help someone.

When Operation Kids talks about more effective giving, we are talking exactly about this. There is more than enough food grown in the world to feed its inhabitants; distribution and greed are the issues. There are plenty of people who give large sums of money in an effort to fight poverty; their generosity is not the issue, their understanding of the problem is. Imagine the power of already existing, but properly organized and distributed aid to those in need?

As donors and philanthropists, it can at times be challenging to get past the statistics and once again personalize need. Stearns uses one of my favorite quotes: “The death of one is a tragedy; the death of millions is statistic.” As you consider the objectives in your charitable giving, as an individual, a family or a corporation, consider the impact, the efficiency and the desired outcome. It is possible to alter the seemingly overwhelming statistics that we hear about global need, but it requires both generosity and planning. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, just as you would in your financial planning. No one is expected to instinctively know how to give; how to change the world. If the passion and the resources are there, then you can learn who the trusted stewards of your giving are and begin to realize the difference between simply giving and high-impact philanthropy.

My “thanks” to Richard Stearns for his commitment and passion, for changing his life to serve others, and for taking the time to write down his thoughts and experiences in such a powerful manner.


Boomers redefine retirement with philanthropy

April 26th, 2010

An article in the National Post this week reports that Boomers are defining retirement by creating new, purpose-driven careers for themselves, rather than quietly going off into the sunset.

The article cites a new study by the Center for Work-Life Policy,  which reports that the majority of working Boomers (approximately 62 percent) expect to stay in the labor force for at least another nine years. This means that through 2020, 80 percent of the native-born workforce growth in North America will be from employees over age 50.

Additionally, many of these Boomers as they enter the dusk of their careers are choosing positions where they can find greater purpose which can at times can also mean swapping higher salaries for purpose.  The Princeton Survey Research Associates reports that 50% of Americans ages 50-70 want to find work that has social impact after their primary career ends. Further, more than 8 million Americans ages 44-70 have already launched “encore careers,” jobs that combine income with personal meaning and social good, according to a 2008 MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures. The article quotes Tina DiVito, director of retirement strategies for BMO Financial Group, as noting that Boomers use retirement to pursue their talents, and do what they love versus merely earning a living.

The good news is that there’s a huge demand for boomer retirees who have expertise to share, particularly in the nonprofit sector. As Bridgespan reports a deficit of more than half a million managers in the next decade. Some corporations, such as Hewlett-Packard, have developed a pilot program to help employees over the age of 50 transition from the corporate world into careers in the nonprofit sector.

The article concludes by quoting  Dr. Richard Johnson, a career expert, writing in Boomers’ Next Step,  “a fundamental shift in our perception of second-half of life living is currently reshaping our thinking about the maturation, personal effectiveness, worthwhile endeavors, and deep soul meaning of this new more mature stage of life. All of our former assumptions about life’s second half are fading into obsolescence as a new day dawns on what it means to be living optimally. The worn-out search for redundant relaxation in the maturing years is being eclipsed by search for deepened relevancy. We now know that idle busyness is deadly, that endless rest is deforming not transforming, and that play can only be truly enjoyed if it’s balanced by something worthwhile to live for.”