A little over six months ago, I decided to do an exercise where I would give to 100 nonprofit organizations/causes in 100 days in honor of my father. I involved my whole family and it and conveniently started with my birthday and ended with Christmas. Every day, I found a worthy cause, made a donation, wrote it up, and then went on with my day. Sometimes, I had a few day’s worth of causes in the queue. Other days, it’d be 11:30pm and I would be struggling to figure out which organization to choose. Make no mistake–this was time-consuming work. While it was done as an homage to a man I greatly admired, I also knew that it had the potential to be a profound experience on many levels. I was right.
There are a seemingly infinite number of nonprofit organizations that exist out there doing good work. For me, my intent was either to relate any selected nonprofit to personal issues, my father, or to current events. But by doing this exercise, my eyes were opened to so many things–well beyond the 100 organizations, charities, and individuals who received money from me. I easily could’ve don #200ForKoka and still have plenty of ideas left over. Meanwhile, the kind words, mail, and text that I got from people about this was both encouraging and empowering. Whether it was a recommendation on a cause or just an “atta boy”, I thank you for pushing me through this. I felt like I was in a group effort.
I originally planned to write this wrapup around New Year’s, just after the hundred days were completed. But I thought about it again and decided I wanted to wait until I had more time to reflect on my lessons. In the time since, I visited India and scattered my dads ashes in a river to mark the final chapter in his physical existence–which made some of the lessons even more powerful upon reflection. As I expected, I still feel the remnants of this effort, long after I finished it. Here are some of my takeaways…
Having Cherise and the girls involved was a good thing as it let me get multiple perspectives on the giving thing. Plus, for all the writeups I did of each cause, I never wrote a poem like Iris did when she picked the Food Bank (though I did quote Sting lyrics, so I get points for that). It was tricky to involve a 10-year-old and seven-year-old. In some ways, they were able to get a lot of lessons out of it because the organizations I chose helped open their eyes to some of the less fortunate people in the world. However, it was difficult for them to just come up with ideas on their own. With only so much context about the world and their fairly sheltered life, they only knew about so many injustices or suffering. Not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I’m fairly certain there’s a middle ground. I do know that explaining these inequities, injustices, or other ills of the world is a hard thing for a parent to do–because it seems to counter everything we’re teaching our kids. Play fair. Take care of each other. Don’t hurt anyone. If we did that as a society, we wouldn’t need a lot of these organizations. It reminds me of the old “Everything I needed to know, I learned in Kindergarten”. Maybe having a president that acts like a 5-year old wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Meh, scratch that…
I made sure to take the time to learn more about each organization (my blurbs in the blog and on Facebook felt like mini-book reports) and was truly inspired by some of the amazing work being done around world. But even more gratifying was taking a deeper look at the terrific work being done by my friends, either in a full-time capacity or a volunteer basis. I realize I’ve underrated how awesome these friends are. To my cousin Dulari. To my co-worker Barrett. To our friends Britt & Izumi, Raj, Sovanna, Ted, Jason, Sally, Jeff, Claudia, and others I’m likely forgetting. In other cases, I discovered very unique personal stories that were tied to recommendations that helped me see people in a whole new light. I gained a whole new respect for folks I already liked. That alone was worth the price of admission. Thank you Jill, Julie, Chris P, Mitra, Brian R, Alyson, Ahbi, Marci, Lorena, Brian M, Jean, and Stephen Colbert (who inspired the gift to the Harlem Children’s Zone & Donor’s Choose). I’m sure I’ve left people off this list, but there were a LOT of folks with a lot of great ideas.
Some donations made me angry. Some donations nearly brought me to tears. Some donations made me hopeful.
I gave to victims of gun violence. Sadly, within three months, I had multiple opportunities to support victims of mass shootings–which prompted me to give the the Brady Campaign against Gun Violence.
I gave to multiple organizations to promote coding skills to underrepresented groups–because only good can come from that.
I gave to Indian organizations multiple times. In addition to being the right thing to do, it was a definitely hat tip to my Dad.
There is something empowering about the gift of giving. I felt like I was making a difference, showing my support, and actually affecting the world with the money I’ve made (or in this case, the money my dad left). I felt the way I feel when I vote in a democratic process, as if even though my part is so small, I can be a part of the solution.
The lone drawback: my snail mail is inundated with the request for more money. I’m not going to lie: this may be the worst part of giving. I feel like my donations are being spent on postage. I was also dumb enough to give my phone number in some cases, which gets me multiple calls every week from people thanking me and wanting to know how much they can put me down for this year. Honestly, this is hands-down, the worst part of giving. Truth be told, I will probably still give to many of the organizations again. I just wish they knew that the mails make me less likely to do so, not more likely. Still, I understand that the mails must work or they wouldn’t do it–just like the e-mail of that poor Nigerian uncle who needs some cash.
A good friend asked if the hundred days was helpful in getting closure with the loss of my dad. It was a good question, but as I thought about it, I realize that this had nothing to do with closure. In fact, quite the opposite. Giving in this way has opened the door to a new me. It has set the tone for the rest of my life and the way I want to honor my father. Random acts of kindness and generosity. Being more mindful of the plight of others. Reading the news and being more empathetic to the people affected. I’ve even started tipping more had restaurants, all in recognition of my dad’s earnest desire to help. Of course, that last part is comical given what an atrocious tipper he was :-).
It takes a village to raise a middle-aged man. To those that lent your ideas, thoughts, support, encouragement, and inspiration, thanks for helping me prove a time of loss can be a time of growth.