Why donate WITHOUT attachment?

Like most things these days we like to put in place measures, we like to understand the return on our investment and when we donate to our favourite charity we like to know the difference we are making.  Our investment to charity can take a number of forms:

  • Donate without attachment– this is the kind of donation that you happy to make to support your mates who are doing one of a thousand things to support their favourite charity or cause. They might be off the drink for a month, eating cup cakes, growing a beard, riding a bike or climbing stairs.  We support our mates, not necessarily the cause they are supporting.  This is a donation without attachment.  We don’t investigate the charity to understand the difference our dollar will make or the programs they are undertaking.  Often these donations are going to be around a couple of hundred dollars;
  • Donate with attachment– this is where we as a business, family or individual we make a considered investment to the charity we are supporting. We look for a charity that meets our values, it is working in the area we have a personal attachment to and we’re invested in the outcomes.  In making this contribution we want to understand the difference the charity is making and we like to follow the process and understand the impact we might have;
  • Investment without money– this is where you will want to personally get involved and the major form of the contribution is not necessarily about the money, it’s more about the contribution you can make through your time, networks and leveraging your expertise. This will work for some people and others they won’t have the capacity or desire.

What I see as the most engaged form of giving is when there is an opportunity for those making the contribution to have a shared experience.  That shared experience might range from a deeper understanding of the charity through to physically getting involved.  It’s what I call “active philanthropy”.

In 2005, my world changed irreversibly, for the better, after I spent several months leading the Australian and International teams in response to the South East Asian tsunami in Thailand.  I would spend the best part of 2005 in Thailand assisting in the identification of the 5395 bodies that were recovered after the tsunami.  But things really changed when I met a group of 32 kids who had all lost their parents and homes to the tsunami.  They were left without a home or anyone to care for them.  When I met them it was August, some eight months on from the tsunami they were living in the tent.

Two things came to me.

We can’t change what’s happened, but we can change what happens next.

I couldn’t change the fact the kids had lost their parents, but it felt within my capacity to change what happened next for them.

I formed the Australian charity Hands Across the Water, with the intent of raising enough money to contribute to the building of a home for the kids.  We did that and we opened our first home in 2007.  The number of the kids living in that home quickly grew and we ended up with double the number of the kids than we first built the home for.  The reason for this is that in times of crisis and disaster lots of people, governments, charities, NGO’s and corporate turn up to help.  But too many leave too quickly.  Just because the stories are no longer on our televisions doesn’t mean the problems have gone away or their parents have come home. Of course they never will.

We made a commitment to stay and continue our support in Thailand.  It’s ten years since I formed Hands in October of 2005 and we’ve grown.  We now support seven different homes all across Thailand.  We have over 300 kids in our care and last year we provided 380,000 meals.  We have raised $15million AUD during that ten period and we have never spent a cent of donors money on administration or fundraising.  But the measure of our success is in the 29 kids that we have studying at university this year.  This will change the lives of these kids, but importantly the next generation that follows them.  That’s the real measure of our success.  Not the number of homes or the dollars raised but the impact to change lives.

And for me the ability to change lives is where our success lies.  You see, we change just as many lives of our supporters here in Australia as we do of the kids in Thailand.

Our focus is not rattling the tin in shopping centres or guilting people into sponsoring our kids we offer opportunities for our supporters to have a meaningful shared experience.

I’ve just returned from running a week long Social Venture Program that is based upon leadership and immersing the group into living examples of tolerance, influence, compassion, resilience and humility on levels I have never experienced before.  I took the group into the slums of Bangkok and we commenced the process that would see an elderly disabled family move into a new home, we spent time with the happiest kids on the planet who happen to have HIV and we were inspired by two remarkable Thai ladies.  The success of the program and ones very much like this that Hands Across the Water run for our supporters is that we give value first, rather than seeking donations.  We build supporters and advocates of the charity who stick around for years to come.

The charity sector is incredibly competitive, there are over 600,000 charities and not-for-profits in Australia.  So donors have plenty of choice.  Increasingly people making those donations are looking for a return on their investment, they want to be involved, they want that shared experience and importantly they want to understand the difference they are making.

The progressive charities are finding a way to return value to their donors, not just relying on the good work they are doing as the reason for potential donors to pick them, out of the 600,000 that exist.

Peter Baines OAM, a former forensics officer with the NSW State Police Force developed his unique leadership style by leading international identification and recovery teams into Indonesia and Thailand following acts of terrorism and the 2004 South East Asian Tsunami. He would go on to work in the counter terrorism area of Interpol, spent time with the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime and also worked in Saudi Arabia and Japan after natural disasters to hit those countries. But it was his work in Thailand that brought the biggest change. Touched by the children left orphaned months after the Tsunami, Peter founded an Australian charity called Hands Across the Water to support them which has gone on to create opportunities for hundreds of children across Thailand.

In January 2014, Peter was recognised in the Australia Day honours with the awarding of the Order of Australia Medal for his International Humanitarian work.

Today, Peter has a successful consulting business building engagement through corporate social responsibility and presents across the globe to major corporations and governments on Leadership.  He is the author of bestselling books Hands Across the Water and Doing Good by Doing Good.

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