The end-of-year holiday season often inspires Washingtonians to donate time, money or talents to their communities. Kojo explores different opportunities to give back in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
Guest Host: Christina Bellantoni
Americans are among the most generous donors to charity in the world, yet we often know very little about the groups we support. Where does all their money go, and whom does it really help? New York Times columnist and author Nicholas Kristof joins us to examine how to be a high-impact donor and why both journalists and charities often struggle to make people care about far-away hardships.
- Nicholas Kristof Columnist, The New York Times; Co-Author, "A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity" with Sheryl WuDunn (Knopf 2014)
Watch A Featured Clip
New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof said working with celebrities to raise awareness of charitable causes can be a “thorny problem.” His books, “Half The Sky” and “A Path Appears,” were both turned into documentaries featuring notable names and faces. Kristof said there is the risk of demeaning serious issues when star power is used to inspire Americans. But it’s one that’s been worthwhile for Kristof. “It became clear that if we could leverage the interest in celebrities and attention that is constantly following them, so that some of that light falls on people who need that attention much more, then that would be really very productive,” he said.
Watch The Full Interview
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. I'm Christina Bellantoni, Editor-In-Chief of Roll Call, sitting in for Kojo. It's a tough sell, convincing Americans they should care about genocide in Darfur, malnutrition in Bangladesh, or poverty here at home. But it's a mission that both journalists and charities have in common. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has reported on hardships around the world and won two Pulitzer Prizes for his work.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONINow, he takes a look at how charities approach some of the world's problems. And which ones actually make a difference. In a new book, Kristof and his wife and co-author Sheryl WuDunn, examine why marketing is often a dirty word in philanthropy. And how that can prevent groups from raising both the awareness and the funds they need. The book also explores how we can all become global citizens who ask the right questions and make our own philanthropic dollars go the farthest. So, a very warm welcome to Nicholas Kristof, New York Time columnist and co-author of "A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity." Thanks for being here in studio.
MR. NICHOLAS KRISTOFGreat to be with you. I'm glad my path appeared and came this way.
BELLANTONIExactly. So, I'm gonna read to you -- this is the front little snippet page from the book, this is a Chinese essayist dated 1921. Hope is like a path in the countryside. Originally, there is nothing, but as people walk this way again and again, a path appears. So, obviously, that's the title of the book, but it's also quite hopeful. So, is it indeed possible to have an impact and why are you so hopeful?
KRISTOFI, you know, I am hope -- people always look at me and they think because I am covering genocide and sex trafficking and global poverty, I must be the most grim, dour person around, and in fact, I really am an optimist. And partly, it's that when you go out and you see the worst things in the world. And side by side with the worst, you encounter the best. I mean, people who are taking unbelievable risks and demonstrating unbelievable courage in standing up for values. And we don't see that here, because we're not tested in the same way.
KRISTOFAnd likewise, I really have seen progress. One of the things we write about in "A Path Appears" and that I think I found most depressing on my first trips backpacking through Africa as a student, was blindness. And especially trachoma is a cause of blindness that is exceptionally painful. We talked to one woman who was -- compared it to the pain of child birth. Except it is their...
KRISTOFYou know, day in, day out, year in, year out. She had lost some children because she was unable to work because of the blindness and unable to care for them. And, you know, then we watched a 40 dollar operation by a nurse give her her sight back. And the idea that you can achieve that for 40 dollars, and indeed, that blindness is on the retreat in poor countries. Boy, those things, you know, it's hard to come back from that and feel anything but a certain amount of uplift.
BELLANTONIWell, that's a really nice attitude to have, and it does really say that it's even smaller amounts. I mean, you give examples of five dollars here and there and in fact, this is a book, I would say, about people, in a very similar way to "Half the Sky," your last book, which I really enjoyed and got to spend a lot of time with it when I was at PBS. But tell us the story about Rachel and her lasting influence. You start the book with this in the introduction and you really get a sense of that ripple effect.
KRISTOFYeah. So Rachel Beckwith was a little girl in Seattle whose parents, I think, were trying to cultivate in her a sense of kind of moral responsibility and she very much absorbed it. And was trying to help others. And at her church in Seattle, she heard about a group called Charity Water, which raises money to dig wells for people around the world who don't have clean water. And it really moved her that there were so many people who didn't have access to clean water.
KRISTOFAnd so she decided, for her ninth birthday, she was going to donate her birthday to Charity Water, so she set up a little webpage on Charity Water. People, in lieu of birthday presents, could donate to Charity Water. And she set up a goal of 300 dollars for her birthday. And then, she was kind of disappointed. I mean, she raised money, but if I remember right, it stalled at 220 dollars. And so, that was nice, but not as much as she had hoped for. And then a few weeks after she had turned nine, she -- her family was in a car accident and a truck dumped logs on the highway.
KRISTOFOther people in the car were okay. She was critically injured. She was in a hospital bed in Seattle and friends, neighbors, were trying to show solidarity with her, show support, figure out what they could do. And they began donating on her birthday page, which was still up. So, she quickly passed her goal of 300. It began soaring from there, past 1,000, 2,000. Soon, at -- her parents were able to whisper to her in her hospital bed that she had passed the record for a birthday, which was -- had been set by Justin Bieber, close to 50,000.
KRISTOFAnd she died. But she was able -- her birthday raised 1.2 million dollars. And, you know, obviously nothing can solve the pain for the parents of losing a child like that, but at least it was a way for the family, for friends, to derive some kind of larger meaning and fulfillment from something that had just seemed so terrifyingly random.
BELLANTONIAnd, so, you tell stories like Rachel's, but you also talk about the different groups and how you can really hold them accountable and understand, you know, where the money you're giving, goes. And what's really, the most important priority. So, what's your overall piece of advice for people that just want to give back but aren't even sure where to start.
KRISTOFI guess maybe a starting point, I would say, is that we tend to give when we're asked. So, we get a phone call from some organization and they mention children with cancer. They mention veterans or firefighters' widows or -- there are a few buzzwords they will mention. And we don't know anything about the organization or the caller, but it sounds worthy and we're kind of embarrassed to say no to something that sounds so worthy. And so we agree to donate some modest amount.
KRISTOFAnd I would really discourage just donating something if you don't have any idea who is on the other end of that. And likewise, if you're stopped on the street by a charity mugger, you know, called chuggers. And you don't know anything about their organization. You know, a lot of that is just going to go to the fundraising effort. But meanwhile, there are so many great organizations that are fantastic at doing really good work. And have a great evidence base. But they're not as great at asking for it.
KRISTOFAnd so, you know, if you were buying a large screen TV, you wouldn't just buy it from some random person who, you know, stops you on the street. You would try to figure out which is a good model and you would go to a store that is, you know, gonna be cost effective and I think we should try to do the same thing with charity. It's even more important where an intervention is potentially lifesaving.
BELLANTONITell us what your giving habits are. You can get in touch at 800-433-8850. Send a tweet to @kojoshow or email us at email@example.com. So, you and your wife, Sheryl WuDunn, started your married life as foreign correspondents together at the New York Times. So, how has your experience covering stories around the world -- how did that make you want to start researching and writing about philanthropy?
KRISTOFYou know, it's funny. I began my journalism career as a business reporter. I was writing about exchange rates and this kind of thing. And then you encounter some of these very human issues, and it's just really hard to forget the people. You know, you encounter somebody who's got trachoma and is in urgent pain. And their kids are dying and it is really hard to go back to writing about financial flows or sex trafficking. I did one article, back in 1996, and I thought that was going to be one article.
KRISTOFAnd then, you meet these little girls who are essentially slaves, except they're all going to be dead of AIDS by their 20s. And they sort of haunt you and likewise, poverty in this country. You know, I met a -- we write about a boy in "A Path Appears" who was deaf and he didn't get a screening for deafness. And so, as his brain is developing, he's not getting any auditory signals, and that is going to harm him for the rest of his life, for want of a something so simple as a hearing screening. And so, when you see such needs that can be addressed, you just, you know, this feels like it's a pretty important thing.
BELLANTONISo, in addition to giving yourself, you raise awareness of this, obviously, through your column, and then through books like this and books like "Half the Sky." But sometimes, it needs to elevate a little bit more. I mean, you worked with a lot of celebrities in "Half the Sky" and "The Path Appears" documentary series is gonna begin in January. There's also gonna be some of those same celebrities returning to that. How important is their role in elevating awareness and how could a naked celebrity, for example, inspire others?
KRISTOFYou know, this is an issue -- it's kind of a thorny problem. Because when we first began working with celebrities on "Half the Sky," you know, I was, Sheryl and I were both a little bit nervous that this demeans issues that we care deeply about. That it sensationalizes them and, you know, as well as just the practical issues of what if we're on a trip somewhere and our celebrity decides to go shoplifting or something. And yet, at the end of the day, these are hard issues for the American public to engage in. They just seem so remote.
KRISTOFAnd it became clear that if we could leverage the interest in celebrities and the attention that is constantly following them, so that some of that light falls on people who need that attention much more, then that would be really very productive. And so, it worked very well with "Half the Sky," and the celebrities were fantastic. And then we've done that again for the documentary for "A Path Appears." And they, again, they were terrific to work with.
KRISTOFAnd I think the upshot is going to be more people engaging in early childhood education and maternal mortality and all these kind of tough issues.
BELLANTONIAnd such a broad range of issues. I mean, everything from the health challenges you brought up with the eye diseases and auditory problems to clean water. So, what are sort of the gamut of things that you saw when traveling?
KRISTOFYou know, there are no silver bullets, and I think we have this deep human yearning for one -- you know, for the silver bullet that is going to solve the problem. And I like to think that really, ultimately, it's not about silver bullets. It's about silver buckshot. And there are a lot of little things that can move the needle to some degree. And you need them all. If you don't worry about early childhood nutrition, that child isn't going to be in a position to do well in school. If you don't have early interventions, then, you know, that, again, education -- that child is going to be so far behind, they're not going to be able to compete in school.
KRISTOFBut you need good schools, too. You need help through adolescence, which is a, you know, potentially risky turn. And you know, you need to worry about health. You need family planning, so that you don't have kids who are stuck with kids that they can't handle. And we hope, you know, ultimately, well, we wrote a book, but we want people not just to read it, but to read it and then to do something. And I think, for both Sheryl and me, what we, you know, maybe the most optimistic thing so far was last Friday the -- somebody stopped me on the street on 42nd Street in New York.
KRISTOFAnd it turned out he was the audio engineer who had recorded the audio book of "A Path Appears." And he was just on his way back from the Ford Foundation, because after listening to it being recorded, you know, for several days, he thought, well, what skill do I have? I know how to record audio. And so he was going to record children's stories, children's books for families where people aren't reading to kids, where they don't have children's books at home.
KRISTOFAnd try to make those audio recordings available to kids. And that's exactly -- we were so pleased. That's exactly what he hope people will do, to find their own skill and their own calling and try to make a difference in some way.
BELLANTONIWhat a great story. It also gets to the human spirit and all of those things. Tell us how you give back. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send a tweet to @kojoshow. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And also, at kojoshow.org, you can watch a live video stream of our show right now with Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and author of "A Path Appears." Make sure to see that at kojoshow.org. So, we're gonna take some callers in just a moment, but we will be right back after a short break. I'm Christina Bellantoni, Editor in Chief of Roll Call, sitting in for Kojo.
BELLANTONIWelcome back. I'm Christina Bellantoni of Roll Call and I'm sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. We're joined in studio by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, author of the new book "A Path Appears: Transforming Lives and Creating Opportunity." I should say co-author with Sheryl WuDunn as well. So we're going to go to some callers in just a moment but we were talking during the break about the sort of human spirit and all the things people can give.
BELLANTONIAnd that goes right into an email we received from Moya who emailed email@example.com saying, "I give to various charities annually at Christmas but all year round I receive multiple requests. How should I tell them I can only give annually and request that they stop sending me mail all year round? I just end up recycling the requests." And this sort of goes to the whole Amway thing -- or not Amway, UNICEF.
KRISTOFYeah, you know, I'm with you. I think in general we're better off giving larger amounts to fewer organizations rather than responding to every good cause with some tiny amount of money that just ends up, you know, covering mailing costs. The -- Sheryl and I always get incredibly frustrated when we get deluged with mail, and especially when it contains a nickel in a little glassine envelope and the idea that, you know, here you have a great organization that is spending its money buying nickels to send me or, you know, a bag that they're sending me as a gift.
KRISTOFAnd so we talk to some of the organizations that do it and, you know, it -- I was sobered that it actually really does work and that people, if they get that nickel, they actually donate a lot more. And at the end of the day since I'm trying to -- since I believe deeply in raising more money for vaccines or anti-malaria bed nets or all these causes, if those nickels will make people a little more generous than I grudgingly accept, maybe it's strategy that works. But I flinch at it too.
BELLANTONIAnd what do we know about what makes a charity successful and what are those benchmarks for success and do you have examples of groups that are making a big difference?
KRISTOFYou know, one of the problems is that we tend to judge charities largely on cost ratios. So we look at, you know, their revenues and look at the share that goes for programs versus to administrative expenses, and that' really not a great metric. I mean, you know, obviously if charity is taking all its money and spending it on administrators or on marble lobbies for its building, obviously that's a problem. But ultimately what you really want is impact.
KRISTOFAnd if a -- the classic example is that if a charity in the polio era had taken its money and very efficiently spent money to wheel polio victims around in their wheelchairs around a park, that would've been perfectly nice. But another charity that spent a lot of money on really good scientists and really good lab equipment and actually developed the Salk vaccine for polio, you know, they might've had worse cost ratios but they would've had infinitely more impact in making the world a better place. And so I think we need to focus on the question of what good does a charity do and not just how expensive is it to achieve that good.
BELLANTONISo we're going to take a call from Steve in Rockville, Md. Steve, thanks for joining us.
STEVEYes, and thank you for hosting the show. I did a Master's thesis way back at University of Wisconsin Madison in Sociology on what I called symbolic altruism meaning why do people give. And I just wondered if you know -- because I really appreciate this show -- if you know of academic research and has that field -- this was back in the '80s -- has that field bloomed since then?
STEVEBut the other point is why I'm interested in that field is there's stuff I want to see don’t that I can't do. I'm not an expert, so I want experts to do it and get money for doing it. But and not arts groups, but the kind of problems you're talking about but I just wondered, do you know of academic research in this area?
KRISTOFYeah, there's been a lot of fascinating work now on kind of the reasons why people give. And it has a lot to do basically with the psychic wards to oneself from giving the, you know, the selfish rewards of altruism. And in particular, there are these pleasure centers in the brain that we can now monitor with brain scans, nucleus (unintelligible) and others. And these are the things that light up when you flirt, when you eat good food, when somebody says something nice about you, when you get a gift. And they also light up when you make a donation to a good cause.
KRISTOFAnd Sheryl and I actually put ourselves in the brain scanner and participated in an experiment. And so we had a little clicker in each hand and the screen in front of us. And so we were donating to causes and getting money. And you could -- and so our pleasure centers indeed were firing away. And different people have different degree -- they derive different amounts of pleasure from altruism. Before about half of American research subjects they seem to derive as much pleasure from giving as they derive from getting. So it's kind of fascinating.
BELLANTONII noticed we have a bunch of resources you can find at kojoshow.org along with our live stream of today's conversation. But when I was clicking on one of those just last night, global giving, they've got a little tracker at the top of their website that'll tell you who gave, what they gave to and most recently. And then it's got like a number totaling. And so it does, it inspires sort of a good feeling when you see others are doing it as well.
KRISTOFThat's right. And, you know, I think one thing that the secular world can really learn from the religious world is -- maybe from mega churches in particular is that they make giving a social activity and kind of a joyous activity. And I think that that's really something that the secular world could emulate, not feel it has to be a sacrifice but that it can be something that is a little bit competitive and a little bit joyous and makes a difference for others but also for ourselves.
BELLANTONISo we have a question from, I believe it's pronounced Indika from Tacoma Park. Hi, you're on the line. Thanks for joining us.
INDIKAHello there. I have a very simple question if I may. I very much believe and support what Nicholas is stating about the need for giving and to do so with due diligence and so on. The question I have relates to the Somaly Mam Organization. And Nicholas knows from his own experience that when he had the privilege of even being on the ground and seeing the work, we still subsequently discovered that the marketing efforts and the storytelling was not entirely true.
INDIKAMy question is, what kind of further due diligence should be done and what is the role of boards to make sure that founders are really not exaggerating the stories? And related to that my concern about the whole emphasis on marketing is that being very good at marketing does not necessarily mean that an organization is extremely well-run. It just means they're very good at marketing.
BELLANTONIThank you so much for calling.
KRISTOFSo for those listeners who didn't follow it, so Somaly Mam was a Cambodian woman who was running an organization called the Somaly Mam Foundation. She had told the story and written a book about having been trafficked as a very young child, having then escaped the brothels and then was getting girls out of brothels in Cambodia, supporting them in new trades. And then last spring Newsweek wrote a article alleging that her back story was essentially fabricated or very heavily doctored.
KRISTOFJust in the last -- just about two weeks ago Marie Claire came out with another article saying no, that the Newsweek article had all kinds of errors in it and, you know, sort of standing by Somaly's story I really don't know where the truth lies there. And it's certainly true that, you know, it is -- you know, it's very difficult to figure out backgrounds and contexts. I always think of it a little bit like venture capital, that, you know, you go and you try to find as much as you can about the background about whether new investment's going to be good.
KRISTOFBut you are going to make some mistakes. And you're also though on balance going to get some great investments. And, you know, you just do what you can to try to maximize a number of good ones and reduce the number of ones that are unsuccessful. And your point about boards, you know, one of the problems is that too often boards, especially of nonprofits, are really brought in because they're heavy donors and for prestige reasons. And they don't really provide much governance. I think that we can do a better job on that.
BELLANTONIAnd do you have websites you recommend to sort of check out your charity that you're interested in giving to?
KRISTOFWe have -- in the back of the book we list a bunch of organizations that we've seen in action. The (word?) Navigator is the standard one that people go to. The problem is that it can't really measure impact very well. It's a hard thing to measure. And it's largely based on self-reported figures including things like cost ratios. So I think it's useful but I think one can only take it so far.
KRISTOFThere's another site called Give Well which tries to actually measure where one can get the most cost effective intervention. And in general and in "A Path Appears" we talk about lots of organizations, you know, that do have pretty good robust evidence.
BELLANTONIAnd there are also ways where you can go to where the work is being done and say, I'd like to see what's happening. I mean, there's a way you can hold the people accountable yourself as well.
KRISTOFAbsolutely and that's -- I think that's one reason why it's useful to donate to fewer organizations, you know, but more that it's easier to kind of know your portfolio. And, you know, if you volunteer for them too then you get to know it better.
BELLANTONISo how much do you know about the charities you support with your donations? Give us a call at 1-800-433-8850, send a tweet to @kojoshow or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Paul in Washington, D.C. is on the line. Thanks for joining us, Paul.
PAULHello. Hi. Yeah, and the gentleman just mentioned volunteering and that was actually the reason I was calling. Depending on your financial situation and depending on how much time you have available, maybe volunteering is the way to go, you know, food banks, shelters, feeding programs, nursing homes and all that. And the other advantage is you don't have to wonder how much impact your donation is giving. You're right there. You're right there doing it. So I think that's really good.
PAULI think one other thing I wanted to suggest too, if you've got a favorite restaurant you go to, talk to the manager and make sure they're donating food to your local food bank. I've worked in many restaurants and I know how much food gets thrown away and how much stuff can be donated. So those are my two thoughts so I'll get off the line.
KRISTOFGreat plan. Yeah, I really agree with you on volunteering. And, you know, mentoring in particular I think is just a great way to volunteer. There's in particular a real desperate need for more men to volunteer boys. And there are organizations now like I Mentor that help you -- that allow you to do a certain amount of mentoring just online. And so I really do encourage people to do that or to, you know, help in, you know, helping kids learn to read and give them that toolkit that is going to be so useful.
KRISTOFThe other kind of thing which isn't exactly volunteering but, you know, is to help use your voice to those who don't have a voice, and that is helping in advocacy efforts. So we talk about organizations like the One Campaign or like Results that manage to lobby effectively for the most public of public interests and have had a huge impact. You know, it's because of lobbying that the U.S. has a terrific anti-AIDS global program PEPFAR. And that has helped far more people than, you know, even Bill Gates could ever have helped. And that was because of some people using their advocacy efforts.
BELLANTONIWe're talking to Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. He's the co-author of "A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity." Sue from Fairfax, Va., thank you very much for joining us today.
SUEThanks for taking my call. I work with a small national nonprofit working with American Indians. It's called the Society of American Indian Government Employees. And I'm interested in where can groups like us look for funding? How can we learn to do better? We are, as I said, national. We involved students. We involve veterans. But we're not specifically focused on that. And a lot of charities, grant foundations, that sort of thing seem to sort of stovepipe where they're giving.
SUEWe're all volunteers except we do have a part time paid financial accountant. But we're trying to help Native Americans in either federal service or tribal government service to help their economy, to help their leadership skills.
BELLANTONIThanks for calling, Sue.
KRISTOFWell, first, Sue, I just am -- you know, I'm really glad you're working this area. It's -- I think all Americans should be concerned about, that one of the grossest inequity of opportunity in America has to do with so many Native Americans on reservations out there. You know, I don't know enough about your organization to really be able to suggest kind of where to go or what to do.
KRISTOFI do think that this is the kind of context where if one can get the help of people who have expertise in, for example, marketing, you know, that can be a really useful skill. And I think it's great when companies, for example, will lend their staff or executives for a few months or a year to an organization so that they can bring not just, you know, writing checks or other things but really some particular skill, whether it's in accounting or marketing or, you know, customer relations management, whatever it may be to -- or IT to a particular nonprofit that needs it.
BELLANTONIWe actually have a lot of calls and emails coming in. They're asking that question about small versus large charities. You know, is there a better effort for your money?
KRISTOFThe -- you know, Sheryl and I are a little bit ambivalent about this because on the one hand we've seen so many small organizations built around a founder that have done extraordinary work because they've got a founder who has some particular skill or passion or is, you know, from some village in Uganda and knows that village and can do a great job there.
KRISTOFOn the other hand, it's also clear there's been this profusion of charities and they don't scale up. They don't get the economy's scale that you get in the business sector. And especially among young people there's a certain amount of resume padding frankly. And everybody wants to start their own organization rather than join a larger one and build it up.
KRISTOFAnd so I guess what I would say is that if you have a particular skill, a particular reason why you shouldn't join an existing organization, then by all means go ahead and start your own. But in general, maybe think about joining something that is already there and making it better and bigger. I think it'd be great also if more charities merged as if we saw more M and A in the nonprofit sector as we do in the commercial sector, just to get more economy's scale.
BELLANTONIWe've got a lot of emails coming in as well to email@example.com. Several people are asking for lists of charities to support. I will point you to "A Path Appears: Transforming Lives and Creating Opportunity" which has a great list in the back. There's also a lot of resources on our website kojoshow.org where, of course, this conversation is live streaming.
BELLANTONIBeth emails if -- to find out if you've heard of Operation Change on the Oprah Channel. They show highlights of some of the very best hands-on international AID projects with inspiring stories.
KRISTOFI've heard of it but don't know anything about it. So I can't be helpful there, sorry.
BELLANTONIWe've also got a question asking if you're working with the Gates Foundation saying someone heard that you were joining up with Melinda Gates.
KRISTOFI'm an admirer of what the Gates Foundation does and, you know, I think they're admirers of what we did with "Half a Sky" and now with "A Path Appears." But we're not really partnering in any sense.
BELLANTONIGoing back to the sort of psychology and sociology of giving, there are a lot of more low income people who are giving more than the affluent. The percentages are pretty stark. So can you explain the differences from that? That's an email from Michelle.
KRISTOFMichelle, great question. So about two-thirds of Americans donate to charity each year. And when you ask the one-third who don't why don't you they say, well, you know, I don't have enough money. But in fact, there is zero correlation between those who don't give and how much income they have. And the bottom 20 percent of Americans give a substantially higher fraction of their income to charity than the top 20 percent, even though, you know, the bottom 20 percent typically don't itemize and just don't get the benefit on the taxes.
KRISTOFSo, and I -- we are beginning to sort of understand the reason for that. And that is partly that people donate because of what they see around them. And if you are poor, then you see people with tremendous needs, even greater than yours, all around you all the time. And that creates an impulse to be generous. If you are rich, on the other hand, you're probably living in some nice, beautiful suburb in a large house. You probably don't have a lot of friends who are needy. And so you just don't encounter these. And you become insulated from how much good your money could do. And, you know, the point of "A Path Appears," you know, my column, is partly to make those people spill their coffee and hopefully get more engaged.
BELLANTONIAs a journalist who follows politics very closely, I am often familiar with how campaign fundraising works. And it tends to be that the women in the households are sitting down and writing those checks for donations. Do you find similar efforts when it comes to giving charity contributions?
KRISTOFI'm not sure overall. There's certainly some causes that have -- where women have become more engaged. It does always strike me -- it surprises me that classic kind of women empowerment issues haven't brought women more into the fray. And that's true historically. In the 19th century, there were -- those rich women who were around, mostly widows, were mostly donating to men's colleges. And it was men who were helping to establish women's education in the U.S. And it's, you know, there's not a lot of gender solidarity out there in some of these global women's issues -- not as much as one would think.
BELLANTONIWe're talking to Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times and co-author of "A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity." I'm Christina Bellantoni, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And I'm curious what you think of the Ice Bucket Challenge that was sweeping the Internet this summer. This is essentially to raise awareness for Lou Gehrig's disease, where people were literally dumping a bucket of ice water on their heads.
KRISTOFI thought that it was great. And I thought it was, you know, an example of an organization trying to figure out a clever way to go viral, to raise money. And so, you know, the upshot I think is going to be more money spent on research for ALS. And I do sometimes think that there is a risk that this is kind of a zero-sum game and people donate a little bit more for ALS but then a little bit less for whatever -- breast-cancer research or whatever else it may be. But I think that, you know, to some degree, it's bringing in more attention, more awareness, and hopefully more dollars to these causes.
BELLANTONIJoin our conversation with Nicholas Kristof. 800-433-8850. We'll be right back after a short break.
BELLANTONIWelcome back to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Christina Bellantoni, editor-in-chief of Roll Call, sitting in for Kojo. And we're joined in studio by Nicholas Kristof, a columnist with The New York Times and the co-author of "A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity," co-author, of course, with Sheryl WuDunn. And they have a documentary series premiering on PBS in January. So we have a comment from a woman named Anna, just asking about, "When you donate to one organization, you end up getting a lot of other requests from other organizations." What should she do and sort of how do you prevent that?
KRISTOFYou know, I don't think there's any very good way of preventing it. Organizations sell their mailing lists. And they, you know, you can try to get your name off lists and off email lists. But ultimately, that's just going to happen.
BELLANTONIJordan from Washington, D.C., thanks for joining us.
JORDANHi. Thanks. I just had a question about your thoughts on the role of Hollywood using its immense resources to motivate and inspire the public to act on some of these issues you've been talking about today. There's a movie coming out this week about the Lost Boys of Sudan, actually with Reese Witherspoon. It's called "The Good Lie." And I'm wondering what you think the capacity of Hollywood is to motivate people to act. And if you feel Hollywood's fulfilling their opportunity or if you think they can do more and become a bigger platform to drive people across the country to donate or volunteer or act in some way?
KRISTOFYou know, it's a really interesting question. I mean, I think that there are some folks in the celebrity world who have done a great job on that. And I think there are a lot of others who can do more. Mostly, they do it in their -- sort of in their spare time, so to speak. I think that if they're -- that what could be really powerful is when you actually have shows or programs whose content in some non-didactic way kind of makes a larger point. And when I was covering Darfur, that movie, "Hotel Rwanda" came out. And that really made a lot of people think about genocide, about our moral obligations in genocide, about what we do. I hope that the new Reese Witherspoon movie that you mention helps raise the profile of Sudan as well.
KRISTOFYou know, it always strikes as a perfect example of this, that the show "16 and Pregnant" on MTV, that that apparently is one of the main reasons why the teenage birth rate in the U.S. has fallen by half since 1990. And because all of a sudden teenagers are watching this show and they're seeing that having a baby when you're young, it's actually a lot of work and a lot of headache. And so, you know, if it were planned by a strategy group sitting around a conference table with a earnest message, it probably would have fallen flat. But done lightly, with just the right touch, it could be powerful.
BELLANTONIAnd in fact you wrote a column just a couple weeks ago about Alicia Keys being photographed pregnant, with just a peace sign drawn on her belly to raise awareness for her new "We Are Here" Movement, which is very interesting and just goes right to her talent as a musician and also to the cause.
KRISTOFAbsolutely. You know, if these -- I mean, Alicia Keys has 35 million followers on Facebook. And if she can drive some of them to issues of equal opportunity, equal justice, then boy, more power to her.
BELLANTONISo we have lots of comments and emails coming in. You can join our conversation at 800-433-8850. We had a tweet to @kojoshow from Rachel, particularly about "The Good Lie," which our last caller also brought up. And she's just asking, you know, about how Hollywood films can help educate the public in general. You mentioned "Hotel Rwanda." We have someone asking about the social enterprise trend and is there support out there for innovative social enterprise startups?
KRISTOFYeah. I'm a believer in social enterprises. And I think they're -- it's sort of strange that we have this tradition that is very bifurcated. So we have for-profit enterprises that are just trying desperately to maximize their revenue and, you know, don't have larger social values. And meanwhile, we have these nonprofits that don't care at all about profitability and often aren't very efficient. And there really should be a place somewhere in between for double bottom-line companies, for example, that are for-profit companies, but that are also trying to maximize some kind of a social purpose.
KRISTOFAnd in "A Path Appears," we talk about some examples of these social enterprises that, because they are a business, they are sustainable in a way that nonprofits are not. And if part of their business model involves filling some social need, that can be really powerful. In Bangladesh, one of the examples we use is a yogurt company that provides very cheap protein and micronutrients to, you know, low-income farmers who aren't getting protein for their kids and aren't getting micronutrients. And because it's a business, it's, you know, this can keep going in a way that a charity might not.
BELLANTONIAnd in addition to donating, you can just support that business to say you like that they're helping the world.
KRISTOFAbsolutely. And for companies these days, it's I think imperative. Because young people these days, millennials, they really care about values as well. And so if a company wants to be able to compete for the best employees and retain them, it's got to also worry about its corporate responsibility and its reputation.
BELLANTONIWe have an email from Chris in Alexandria saying, "Volunteering is the most important way to give to a charitable organization. I work for a small nonprofit in the D.C. area, and without our regular volunteers, we would not be able to serve half the people that we do. This has been the case for every nonprofit I have worked for." We also have Farrah on the line from Potomac, Md. Thanks for joining us.
FARRAHOh, hello. Can you hear me?
BELLANTONIYes, we can. You have a question for Nicholas Kristof?
FARRAHYes, actually, I have more of an announcement. I wanted to say that I work with a charity that works for disadvantaged young women in Iran. And we serve Iranian women as the last 30 percent of adults are from Afghanistan. And I just wanted to give the attention to the issue of women through that part of the world and the gender equality. Because, as we know, the uneducated mother who has raised even sons who are not involved with violence. And it would just make a better community. And I was wondering, think it's under Sunday, in Silver Spring Service Center. I just wanted to make an announcement. And also if I can get the comment on the women's situation and (unintelligible) .
BELLANTONIThanks very much for your call. We also had a caller named Debbie who wanted to tell us that she's urging people to volunteer for the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind. There's no shortage of needy organizations out there. So how do you recommend people sort of distinguish between their arts organization or their alma mater, charities?
KRISTOFYou know, I believe that maybe the most important transcendent issue is opportunity. And that, you know, there are ways of doing that by supporting early childhood in particular. You get so much more bang for the buck when you invest in a six-month-old than with a 16-year-old, or, you know, certainly with a 60-year-old. But, you know, the arts are also important. I donate to my universities because I have some loyalty to them, even though I don't -- I wouldn't argue that they get quite as much bang for the buck. And likewise, volunteering, I think, you know, one can volunteer work. I think that the satisfaction that you get yourself is also a perfectly valid reason to volunteer for a group.
KRISTOFAnd we came across mortality data that seniors -- that their mortality rates fall 29 percent if they join a religious organization, 30 percent if they exercise regularly, and 44 percent if they volunteer for two or more organizations. So, you know, this is -- it's great, I mean, it's great to go out and try to support others. But you also end up really enriching your own life.
BELLANTONIMaybe they can do all three. That'd be a good, powerful combo.
KRISTOFIf you volunteer for a religious running organization, you'll life forever.
BELLANTONIIt'd be perfect. So you touched quite a bit in the book about some of the way that charities run their businesses and how they're evaluated and how that can sometimes have a flipside of people cutting back on their overhead just to show they have a better bottom line.
BELLANTONIAnd Dorothy in Alexandria emails firstname.lastname@example.org saying, "I hate it when organizations say 100 percent of your donation goes to this issue, because it implies there's something wrong with paying the light bill or an accountant or the other so-called overhead costs. Not only is there nothing wrong with that kind of spending, research is increasingly demonstrating that undercapitalized nonprofits are not as effective as those that have a strong organizational core." She'd be interested in your thoughts.
KRISTOFI mean, you're absolutely right that you want a nonprofit that is investing in its computer systems, that is investing in its own staff. These are ways that make an organization more productive and it's not waste. On the other hand, people want their money to go for services. And so if they can find a class of donors who will cover those administrative expenses and make sure there aren't shortcuts there, then that is something that does help lure more donors.
BELLANTONIWhat about charges -- you've dubbed this poverty-porn organizations, that sort of exploit, you know, really tragic images or stories to get people to give money.
KRISTOFYou know, it's something that I, again, am somewhat ambivalent about. I think that there -- it's a legitimate risk and that there is some concern about robbing people of dignity, the way kind of they're presented as just sort of desperate. On the other hand, it also -- it works to get more revenue for neglected causes, to get more attention, to get people to help. And if, at the end of the day -- I mean, one of the things we write about is club foot. And it's a congenital birth deformity. It can be quickly corrected in early childhood. And if it's not corrected, then people end up unable to walk, as often beggars in the streets.
KRISTOFAnd it is tragic that most kids in the developing world don't get this simple surgery to correct it. If there were more images of some of these people, I think that probably more people would get surgery. And I think, if I have to choose, you know, which troubles me more, it would be not the poverty porn, but rather the fact that so many kids aren't getting the help they need.
BELLANTONIWell, this is a nice last comment from our listeners to end the program on. So we have an email from Jessica wanting to share her thanks. She's saying, "Last Mother's Day, Nick mentioned my organization, ClearWater Initiative, in his Mother's Day column in The New York Times. It was pretty amazing. I woke up the morning the column came out with hundreds of donations from all over the world from people that had read his column. We were so surprised and grateful for everyone's generosity.
BELLANTONIWe used the money to build wells for rural communities in northern Uganda this summer, which primarily benefits women and girls. One small mention in his column meant we were able to provide water and community education to hundreds of people. This is proof of the difference that reporting and raising awareness can make for those of us working on the front lines."
KRISTOFWell, bravo to you. I'm, you know, I think of myself as in the lighting business. I have a spotlight. And it's a privilege to be able to shine that spotlight on people doing great work in the field.
BELLANTONIIt's a really nice thought. Now, in the back of the book, you have a, six things you can do in six minutes. I don't know if you know them by heart, but if you can run through them, that would be helpful.
KRISTOFSure. So we talked about things like organ donation, to register yourself as an organ donor. There is an organization you can donate -- for $20, you can support a child to Reach Out and Read -- a literacy program that gives that child books and parents get a prescription to read to that child. You can go to GlobalGiving.org and support some other organizations we talk about in the book, including an amazing girls' school in Kenya. DonorsChoose, which helps you support schools in this country is also an example there.
KRISTOFAnd also just, you know, think about forming kind of a giving circle with some of your friends. I mean, one of our hopes is that, you know, book clubs that read "A Path Appears," that they may also incorporate a giving dimension so that they, you know, finish the book and then think about, well, what can we do to maybe address some issue that that book shines a light on?
BELLANTONIGreat tips. The book is "A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity." Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times is a the co-author of that book along with Sheryl WuDunn. Thank you so much for being here in studio with me and informing our listeners. This was a great program.
KRISTOFGreat to be on.
BELLANTONII am Christina Bellantoni. I've been sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Thanks very much for being with us today and have a great afternoon.
BELLANTONIComing up tomorrow on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," the digital afterlife -- from memorial posts to online accounts that stick around long after someone's passing. Tech Tuesday explores why death isn't the end on social media. Then at 1:00, post-season fever. Both the Nats and the Orioles head for the playoffs. We explore the rich history behind our local baseball teams. "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," noon till 2:00 tomorrow on WAMU 88.5 and streaming @kojoshow.org.
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