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Jan
17th
Mon
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Do Low Income People Care More than High Income People?

I spent a lot of time this weekend doing research on nonprofit fundraising and donor motivations (also my excuse for not participating in the MLK Day of Service… a poor excuse but an excuse nonetheless) and came across some interesting study results. 

A study looking at donor motivations found that lower-income people ($50K and under, so we are not talking about the poorest of the poor here) are more likely to identify their top reason for donating to be providing for the poor’s basic needs or helping the poor help themselves.  Mid-income and higher-income people ($50K-100K and $100K+ respectively) were more likely to choose making the community/world a better place and the idea that those with more should help those with less. 

The same results also held true for education levels, with high school education or less correlating with the lower-income groups and some college or more education correlating with mid-to-higher income groups.

My first reaction was - of course - people who are closer to being poor themselves would be more inclined to give to organizations working directly with the poor.  But then I started thinking about the response options more, and also thinking about how I might respond to a similar survey.  And I wonder if the response from higher-income individuals is more about looking at the big picture—the idea that I’m not just providing food and shelter to a poor person, I’m changing the world so that there are less poor people. 

Another study focused just on high net-worth individuals (net worth of more than $1,000,000 or income of at least $200K—and often much more).  As a percentage of their overall giving, donations to organizations that serve the poor’s basic needs was only around 2-4%.  However, when ranking their motivations in this study, “meet critical needs” was the highest (followed closely by “giving back to society”).  Going back to how their total giving is divided up, the largest percentage by far went to “funds or foundations” (next largest was health).  I can only presume that the funds or foundations do work that in some way meets critical needs of the poor.  But again, perhaps the foundations are working in a more high-level way to “change the system” rather than just providing food and shelter. 

So there’s a lot to think about there.  And I think there is a need for both kinds of giving—taking care of the critical needs of the poor today, and working to change the big problems so that there are less people in need of help in the future.  I also wonder whether lower-income people could be more pessimistic about wide-scale change, and feel more comfortable giving where they can see an immediate impact.

Speaking of impact, back in 2009 there was some controversy over the microfinance organization Kiva because their marketing materials mislead (or may have mislead) donors into thinking they were giving a loan directly to an individual microfinance customer, when instead the loans went into a big pool (and funds were actually given to the individual customer BEFORE you made your donation).  I read about the controversy a bit at the time, but looked it up again this weekend because I thought it was relevant to the issue of donor trust and the use of an emotion-based appeal for fundraising. 

I found two excellent blog posts by Sasha Dichter (the Director of Business Development at Acumen Fund and my new blog-crush—see also this excellent talk he gave on impact investing), on the Kiva controversy—an original reaction and then a follow-up to clarify.  The crux of what I am trying to get at in all of this research is how to get donors to be more savvy in their giving.  Sasha’s point is that a concrete and emotional “ask” is essential for effective fundraising but that this also needs to be balanced with a more rational, strategic (metrics-based?) approach to giving. 

As a general rule, donors that are more educated are more likely to ask the tough questions and do the research on an organization before giving.  But even then, are higher-income, higher-education donors receiving (or searching for) the right kinds of information?  A general refrain that I hear frequently from people who consider themselves to be “informed” donors is that they only give to nonprofits that have low overhead and there is too much waste in nonprofits.  In the study of high net-worth individuals, when asked what would cause them to give more to charity, the biggest indicator was if nonprofits spent less on administration (usually followed pretty closely by being able to determine the impact of gifts). 

However, if you talk to anyone who has spent any significant time working for or with a nonprofit, they will often tell you they think nonprofits should spend more on things like salaries.  In order for nonprofits to be effective, they need to attract and retain top talent.  It’s difficult to do that when the pay rate for nonprofit staff can be significantly lower than that of the corporate sector.  In fact, if we follow this through logically, the only way that nonprofits can accurately report on the impact of their work (which most donors say is important) is if they have staff with the proper knowledge, training, and time to track and analyze client data. But that’s (gasp) administrative overhead. 

How do you translate that knowledge so that it reaches individual donors?  If the high net-worth individuals (who in some cases pay someone just to manage their charitable giving) don’t “get it,” what hope do we have of reaching the average Joe (or Jill) who gives $20 to some cause every year? 

(I will acknowledge that certain large nonprofits reach a state of bloat not unlike government, with the accompanying high salaries and low work loads.  But while these may make the news, they are definitely not the norm.)

Just a few of the thoughts I’ve had as I work with a team of other MBA students on the LiquidNet Impact Challenge.  Hopefully I’ll have more to share soon.

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Jan
13th
Thu
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A blog post about blogging

I think I should be blogging more, but I think in order to do that I need to have a focus, a topic, something that I should be blogging about.

Right now this blog is stuck between (or perhaps transitioning between) a personal blog about my life and a more public blog that I could point a potential employer toward.  I’m leaning toward the public side, because “they” say that nowadays you should have a strong smart online presence to be attractive in the job market.  So I might even start a new blog toward that end.

But I don’t know what to write about if I’m not writing about my life.  I can still write about my life some, and just do it in a way that is more fit for public consumption.  But you walk a fine line doing that, because you don’t want to end up pissing someone off or getting fired from your job or something.

What you are supposed to do is blog about your interest areas that align with the job that you want.  But in order to write about those topics I feel like I would need to spend a lot more time reading and thinking about them.  And it’s really sad to say that I don’t really have time for that right now.  Which is not a great sign. 

Maybe I just need to keep blogging more in the forefront of my mind and see what ideas/topics come up that seem blog-worthy… and then over time see where that leads me.  I don’t know.

Does anyone have ideas for me?  What are your favorite blogs and why?

I love Penelope Trunk (but she is NOT a good example of writing about your life in a way that you want potential employers to see, although she makes it work for her).

Dave Troy's blog posts, although fairly infrequent, are usually thought provoking and insightful.

I also really enjoy Seth Godin and how pithy and wise and funny his blog posts are.

I like reading a lot of the VC blogs although I haven’t been much lately. 

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Nov
6th
Sat
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4 Short Essays

Since I never get around to writing for this  blog anymore, I thought I’d post the rough draft of 4 essays I just wrote for the Acumen Fund Fellowship that I’m applying for (which is probably out of my reach but you never know right?).

If you have a chance to read them before next Friday and have any thoughts I’d really appreciate if you let me know.  They’re just first drafts so I’ll be revising them and I wrote them all tonight while consuming a few glasses of wine to get the “creative juices flowing” so I don’t know if they are good or crazy or obnoxious or what.

The last one definitely needs some work but it was at the end and I was tired.  They all had to be this short.  I just copy and pasted from word so the formatting is a little nutty.  Please email or comment your thoughts!

 Question 1: Gandhi is often quoted for saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” How have you brought about change in your world?

 

I like to start small and watch the ripple effect.  The everyday acts of kindness.  Knowing you made someone else smile.  Making the connection between two people who you know will do great things working together.  Listening and offering advice.  Finding the person who will do what you’re trying to do so much better than you can.  Then figuring out what you can do so much better than everyone else. 

 

The single biggest change I can point to is launching the Drexel Student Consulting Group (DSCG), for MBA students at my university to provide free business consulting to nonprofits and social ventures.  Not only are we helping organizations achieve important goals, but the students gain experience and are exposed to and involved in important issues such as improving low-income communities and the environment.  A lot of MBAs don’t realize there are great career opportunities beyond investment banking, and when I introduce them to, for instance a nonprofit consultant, it can make a big difference in their thinking.

 

A blogger that I admire disputes the typical characterization of entrepreneurs as huge risk takers.  He believes that successful entrepreneurs take a series of small calculated risks that, compounded, lead to a world where the entrepreneur’s goal is possible.  Bold, disruptive action is necessary for real change—but the steps that get us there are often quite small. 

 

Question 2: What is your greatest fear?

 

My biggest fear is not achieving—and the definition of achievement is always changing.  Achievement is setting meaningful goals and reaching important milestones, both on a day-to-day basis, and for the long-term.  It also means setting goals that are achievable, and not being too hard on myself when everything doesn’t work out exactly as planned. 

 

I sometimes try to do too much.  Right now I am working full-time, taking classes for my MBA part-time, running the Drexel Student Consulting Group, and helping to run two Net Impact chapters as well as stay involved in other organizations and committees.  When I list it all out like that, it looks like an achievement in itself—“look at me and all the great things I’m doing!”  But having a list of activities isn’t enough if I’m not successfully moving each activity forward.  So achievement becomes, not only achieving tangible results, but achieving balance as well.  It’s knowing when I stop being effective and learning to cut down on activities—or taking an evening to relax. 

 

My biggest fear isn’t achievement on a day-to-day level, because there’s always a reason why it didn’t get done and there’s always tomorrow.  My fear is that I will look back on my life (when there aren’t very many tomorrows left) and find that all those “maybe tomorrows” piled up and I never made as big of an impact as I could have.  Being too achievement-oriented really means trying to achieve perfection.  But you can’t be perfect without acknowledging your imperfections—and that there will always be imperfections. 

 

Question 3: Tell us a story…

 

My senior year of college I did a semester abroad in New Zealand.  A fellow exchange student that I became friends with repeatedly insisted that we needed to make a trip to Fiji before returning home.  I didn’t know anything about Fiji and was low on money, but she kept saying “it’s heaven” and eventually convinced me that Fiji was not to be missed.

 

We had been traveling all over New Zealand without much planning and either through laziness or pure naivety planned to do the same in Fiji.  To save money we decided to stay in hostels and do most of our traveling through Fiji’s public bus system.  As our plane circled down toward the island, my friend pointed out the window and said, “There it is—heaven!”  We were so excited.

 

My first sign of trouble was the look on the custom’s officer’s face in Fiji and told him we didn’t know where we’d be staying.  The second was our conversation with the taxi driver that took us from the airport to the first hostel that we picked out of my friend’s Lonely Planet, about the ethnic tensions and frequent political coups.  “Don’t worry,” he said as he casually swerved down a side road and began driving on the beach, “most of them were bloodless.” 

 

Most visitors to Fiji spend the entire time on one of its many beautiful beach resorts.  We visited a couple of those, but spent most of our time traveling across the country and inadvertently witnessing the devastating poverty that the vast majority of the population lives with.  After seeing both sides of the country, I turned to my friend and said, “You told me we were going to heaven—but I’m pretty sure this is hell.” 

 

Question 4: There are 20 million people in Pakistan who have been devastated by the country’s floods. You’ve just received a grant of $100 million - how will you use the money to have the greatest impact possible?

My first step, before rushing in, would be to make a plan for how this funding could have a long-term impact in the region, and how I could leverage it to increase that impact.  What made the difference between the recent earthquakes in Haiti and in Christchurch New Zealand?  The building code and the architecture—fundamentally, the poverty level.  So many deaths in developing countries are the results of poor infrastructure and the lack of efficient, long term planning.  Yet so many of the resources of the nonprofits and NGOs that serve these communities go to short-term emergency aid or ineffective solutions.

I would begin by researching into the best way to prevent future disasters in Pakistan—natural disasters will always occur, but there are ways to plan for them so that they are less devastating.  I would also find other organizations, both non-profit and for-profit, to partner with on long-term solutions for Pakistan, increasing the funds and expertise being focused on this issue.  Lastly, I would leverage the available funding by seeking matching funds through individual and foundation giving.

There are two major issues resulting from the flooding.  One is the infrastructure improvements necessary to prevent future disasters, and the other is addressing the needs of the displaced Pakistanis.  Both are long-term (as well as short-term issues), and there are likely ways to address both at once, such as bringing displaced Pakistanis back to work on the necessary clean-up and infrastructure improvements.  And most importantly, to listen to their ideas. 

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Oct
25th
Mon
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Oct
24th
Sun
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Reasons I Will Never Be a Famous CEO

1. I hate mornings

2. I hate running

3. Money is great, but helping people is better

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Jul
15th
Thu
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Jul
5th
Mon
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ONE of Ken Rogoff’s favorite economics jokes — yes, there are economics jokes — is “the one about the lamppost”: A drunk on his way home from a bar one night realizes that he has dropped his keys. He gets down on his hands and knees and starts groping around beneath a lamppost. A policeman asks what he’s doing.

“I lost my keys in the park,” says the drunk.

“Then why are you looking for them under the lamppost?” asks the puzzled cop.

“Because,” says the drunk, “that’s where the light is.”

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Jun
25th
Fri
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Vuvuzela

Text messages with my old friend Chris.

Sunday:

Chris (6/13 9:50PM): Are u still at 990 north 2nd st

Me (6/13 9:52PM): Yes, apt 1. Is this a movie & you’re standing outside of my door?

Chris (6/13 9:53PM): Nope sorry. Expect a package towards the end of the week. Sender may not be identified. Happy birthday.

Me (6/13 10:02PM): Will the package contain your ear?

Chris (6/13 10:03PM): Hahaha no. I can’t give any hints.

Monday:

Chris (6/14 4:08PM): Your present is temporarily out of stock :(

Me (6/14 4:09PM): Are you sending me a vuvuzela???

Chris (6/14 4:11PM): lol you guessed right! I hope it comes soon, but I imagine the demand is pretty big.

Me (6/14 4:17PM): Hahaha hopefully it will arrive in time to annoy my friends and neighbors

Friday:

Me (6/18 6:25PM): My vuvuzela came!!!!!!! In the world’s biggest box!

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Me (6/18 6:31PM): bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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Chris (6/18 6:35PM):

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Chris is up in Buffalo getting his PhD in Philosophy.  Sometimes I miss him. 

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Jun
17th
Thu
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Not sure why but I thought this was a hilarious email

The Department of Public Safety wants to make students and staff aware that during the week beginning June 21, Amtrak will be conducting federally-mandated testing of locomotive air horns in the rail yard behind 30th Street Station, adjacent to Drexel’s University City Main Campus.

Testing will consist of a 10-second activation of the horn on each of 40 locomotives over the course of the week. The horn blasts will be extremely loud and might be audible on campus, but they are not a cause for concern.

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May
13th
Thu
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Barrels of Oil

Lyrics:

Barrels of Oil


I’m dreaming with my eyes open
imagining a different sort of day
I’m dreaming with my eyes open
and my dreams make me sad
when they fade away, when they fade away
when they fade away, when they fade away
when they fade away…
I wish I could go back in time
and find the day when I lost hope
in humankind and rectify
the possibility of miracles
just like my Mamma told me I should believe
no matter how bad things get,
no matter how bad things get
but violence and threats of it
though only a small element
of history and birth and death
yet seems to get the best of every one of us,
in the end it does
no matter how good things get,
no matter how good things get
is it an abomination of the will to survive?
is it as simple as an issue of bad design?
should we lay the blame on the master plan,
send a message to God to start again?
or should we take it in our hands
to be more than Americans
rise up against our human tendencies
toward desire for more wealth and power
to protect ourselves
no matter how bad things get,
no matter how bad things get,
no matter how bad things get

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