Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Crusader for Charity

This is cross-posted in the Huffingtonpost Impact Section.

Through recession, natural disaster, war, and any other challenge to humanity, one thing remains constant: the need for sharing and giving to improve lives in every corner of the globe. Drawing from her extensive background in social work and passion for service, Jessica Sweet started Wishingwell Consulting, a great way to meet that need.

Wishingwell is riding a wave of innovative thinking this year that started with Mobile Giving, which was instrumental in fundraising efforts for Haiti. As we turn the page on what has been a tough few years in the community of charities, there are so many reasons to be excited about what the next decade will bring. Wishingwell, is one of those reasons.

It's visionary founder, Jessica Sweet, is everything you would expect: constructive, focused, accomplished, and engaged. And she does not disappoint. You'll love her perspective and appreciate her commitment.

In a global economy that's struggling, how are you managing to convince people to give to charity?

It isn't my role to convince anyone to give. I talk about the benefits of giving, and encourage people to give, but I'm not going to put the "hard sell" on anyone. My philosophy is that giving should feel good, and give something back to you.

That thinking is already in place in the business world--many businesses see that giving (whether structured as cause marketing or volunteering or corporate philanthropy) is an investment in their business. There is an upfront cost, but the payoff is worth it. Individual donors usually have an intrinsic motivation to give, but they might have trouble figuring out how to give in a way that works for him or her. I help people and businesses focus on what they really value and how they believe change occurs, and help them understand their own goals for change. I concentrate on making giving a rewarding experience--so much so that the incentive to do it (and keep doing it) is built right in.

I think more and more people are beginning to understand that simply throwing money at a problem isn't enough--there has to be a strategy behind your giving. I work to give people peace of mind so that, when they go to bed at night, they know that there is a concrete plan in place that will help them do their part to make an impact on the piece of the world they care about most.

So for me, it's less about convincing people that they can give, and more about giving those with a desire to help and the means to do so a path to make a real difference while giving back to themselves as well.

Dr. Maya Angelou once noted that "the act of giving" tends to liberate the giver. What's your view?

I agree, but I don't think that just any giving accomplishes liberation. I believe Dr. Angelou is alluding to freeing ourselves from a feeling of being disconnected from the world around us--of ennui, the general lack of direction or meaning in life and disconnection from others. In my opinion, in order to reach the liberation that Dr. Angelou speaks of, our giving needs to meet a set of universal standards.

(1) Give if it comes from your heart. When some people think of giving, they think of ending up with less or going without in terms of finances, time, or energy. Sometimes this is real, and sometimes it's about a person's mindset. Whatever the source, until something changes, this person shouldn't give and expect to have great things happen for them. We need to honor ourselves and understand our limitations while growing through them. Giving should feel like a beautiful thing, and should help us feel that we have more, not less. If you give because you want to and not because you think you should, one condition is met.

(2) We should not neglect ourselves or give until it hurts. A world in which one problem is alleviated only by causing suffering for another person doesn't make sense to me. Healing can only occur if the giver isn't harmed.

(3) The cause should resonate deeply with the giver. When you care about something deeply, it feels like a privilege to be able to make a positive impact. The act of giving should help you feel empowered, and that you can do something about what's important to you, rather than feeling held hostage by what is wrong with the world.

(4) The cause should help you connect with others. Many of us struggle with feeling disconnected and that something is missing in life. Life can become mundane unless we have real human connections based on working to accomplish something meaningful. When you give in a way that helps you get in touch with a sense of brotherhood, you free yourself from the fear that you are alone and that life is meaningless.

All together, this turns giving into something that's transformative. It puts us in context as human beings and lets us see the importance--and the meaning--of taking care of others as well as taking care of ourselves. We can understand why when we feel that life is missing something, only by giving something away can we get it back; only then are we free.

Would you say that what you're doing is helping to set the tone for charitable giving for the long term?

I certainly hope so. In fact, I believe this model for charitable giving is the next generation of thinking. My goal isn't simply to help people give a few dollars. It's to help people feel empowered. I want people to understand themselves and what really matters to them; I want people to realize that there is something that can be done to improve the problems they see; and I want people to experience a sense of fulfillment from being engaged in something meaningful. This model for giving does all of that. Done the right way, giving is a powerful thing--it's much more than just writing a check to the next charity that asks. When we uncover what we, as individuals, are intrinsically motivated to accomplish, we begin to leverage a colossal force--and that is when change truly occurs.

To contact Jessica Sweet about Wishingwell and other 'Cause Marketing' projects, fan her on her Facebook Page or follow her on her Twitter feed.

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