"Just because you decide to give away money, everybody assumes you must be totally loaded (in both ways) or just a philanthropic show-off."
That is how the profile of writer, corporate creative director, and self-described "show-off", Betty Londergan begins her blog, What Gives? 365 Days Of Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is.
I recently chatted with Betty about her "Vicarious Giving" mission to give away $100 a day to causes that resonate with her.
Planet Green: How did you come up with the idea for 365 days of putting your money where your mouth is and "Vicarious Giving"?
Betty Londergan: I went to see Julie and Julia and came home and thought, gee if I were to blog every day, what would I blog about? And it came to me - I think I'll give money away! The "Vicarious Giving" came to me from a desire to not just have my voice and values dictating where the money goes to - but to make it more universal, and get other people involved. And of course, I wanted to get out of writing every single day!
PG: How do your husband and children feel about you giving away their inheritance?
BL: Well, $36,500 is about half of what my dad left each of us eight children so it's not really my husband's money - although he was immediately very excited about the idea and totally embraced it. My daughter thought it was an insane amount of money to give but she knows how intrinsically cheap and thrifty I am, so she's not too worried that I'm going to be living off her in years to come.
PG: You asked yourself, "What am I going to do with the rest of my life?" How much did the changes in your family life factor into your decision to give to others?
BL: I think when your kids leave home you have to evaluate what you're going to put your heart & soul (and need to control) into next...and because I'd already written two books, I wanted to do something that would engage me as much as motherhood had ... as well as give me the opportunity to focus on good, positive things... instead of my wrinkles and waistline.
PG: How did your past work/life experiences influence your decision to give?
BL: Well, my mom was a passionate giver - my dad always said if she had lived long enough, she would have given away everything he had saved. I'm a lot more selfish than that, but I do feel as if "to those to whom much is given, much is expected." I just don't see how it's possible to have so much and not feel compelled to give to those who are in such desperate need. Also, having spent my career in advertising (which is widely reviled as being such a crass and revolting trade) I was constantly surrounded by people who were intensely optimistic, funny, engaged, artistic, creative and open-minded ... and that just made me feel like you could do anything if you put your mind to it --and were a bit entertaining in the process.
PG: On your blog you say, "It's like a dream come true! You write and tell me about your favorite cause, project, or person and if I'm convinced, I'll publish your post and donate $100 to your cause." What are your criteria for giving?
BL: Well, since it is my money, the idea has to resonate with me in some way. I'm not interested in anything that has a corporate objective or is tied to a company I don't like. Personal stories of redemption and hope are moving to me, and presumably to others as well. I am also looking for things that I think will excite other people and cause them to feel there is positive movement forward ...sustainable design, new inventions that move communities forward, and just cool stuff that has the potential to be transformative for the planet, the economy, and people in need.
PG: Give us an example of someone who came to you for money. What did their cause/idea look like?
BL: I'll give you two examples with different outcomes: somebody I didn't know came to me with dog visitation service, where they take pets to visit with seniors ... and although that's a really nice thing, it just didn't move me very much. However, another really good friend of mine in Denver is passionately involved in training dogs for hospice care and work with the disabled. She works for months at a time with these dogs and is so selfless about raising them & loving them & then turning them over to their new owners. I just find that to be amazing. So I guess I'd say if I could write about it with conviction and make it sound cool or heartwarming or fascinating, then I'm in. Otherwise, not so much.
PG: Will you be giving to environmental causes?
BL: I'm an insanely ardent advocate for environmental causes. I feel very strongly that we have a moral obligation to try to repair the damage we've done to the planet, to try to create sustainable, livable systems of energy, building, and development that won't kill our grandkids, and to save the open spaces and gorgeous wilderness that is our truest legacy to future generations. I recycle, I conserve, I garden, I buy organic, and I try to make good choices - but more than that, I think we need very meaty, beefed up and aggressive organizations that can take on corporate interests in protecting the environment and representing our best interests as a society. So, I love the NRDC, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, PIRG, and all those organizations that are willing to mix it up on behalf of the planet.
PG: How can people get involved either on the giving or getting level?
BL: Well, I'd like people to send me their ideal Week of Giving (at whatever level per day they feel comfortable with) - and I want to encourage people to give birthday gifts that honor the person's philanthropic interests (because do we really need another scarf or tie???) My idea is not to start a fund of my own - it's to inspire people to give, and to think about giving, and to (let's face it) feel left out if they're not on board because obviously, it's such a total rush to GIVE!
PG: How can others find "upbeat & positive" ways to deal with change if they can't give money away?
BL: I find that it's actually a lot more fulfilling sometimes to just go work in a soup kitchen than to write a check. There are a host of organizations in almost every city that can point you in a direction of volunteering your time - even if you're like me and have almost no skills to offer...like what can I do, write an ad for a homeless person? I think if you set out to change the world, you'll probably burn out in a week or two...but if you try to do a little bit of good in any way you can, you'll be the ripple in the water that may just spread out across your world.
PG: What advice to you have for others who would like to give money away?
BL: Don't do a blog that promises you're going to come up with something cool every day - it's exhausting!! (Just kidding...no I'm not.) Other than that, I'd say give to things that you really believe in, and do it any way that makes you feel good. If you want to give to just one thing, fine. If you want to give to anything that rings your chimes (like some people we know - ahem!) that's okay, too. As long as you're doing something for others and trying to share your blessings, it's going to be good.
For more information about Betty Londergan's charity, go to What Gives? 365 Days Of Putting My Money Where My Mouth.
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