Wendy Smith: GIVE A LITTLE

In today’s post, guest blogger and author Wendy Smith talks about how important giving is, especially at the smallest levels.  She explains that it’s the power we have as a group that can really make a difference.

I heard a story today about a wealthy man who givealittlegave $50,000 and a house to a penniless man who’d had a stroke and nowhere to live. Stories of philanthropic largess like this one are abundant; in fact, big donations, particularly those made by celebrities, get nearly all the press.  There is a myth in the U.S. that the majority of charitable giving comes from foundations, corporations, and wealthy celebs.  The truth is that 75% of all donations made to nonprofits every year come from individuals, most of them living in households with less than $200,000 in annual income.

My book, Give a Little: How Your Small Donations Can Transform Our World, describes the cumulative magnitude and power of the affordable donations made by everyday citizens. In 2008, their giving amounted to $228 BILLION.  That is more than the gross national incomes of 75% of the world’s nations!  The book shows the rippling effects of every affordable donation as it changes the life of an individual child, strengthens a family, shores up a community and reinforces peace within an entire nation.

My experience working in the nonprofit sector for 20+ years combined with my research while writing Give a Little proves that the citizen philanthropist is a crucial and undervalued part of the solution to the inhumanity of extreme poverty. Better World Books is an outstanding example of the cumulative power of individuals contributing to a valuable cause.  $7.7 MILLION dollars raised to improve literacy around the world – one person, one book, one purchase, one donation at a time.  It works.

This is a unique moment in philanthropic history as a confluence of the internet, social entrepreneurs like those at Better World Books, and a mass of highly motivated and empowered citizens have combined resources to create multitudes of effective nonprofits that are helping the most vulnerable among us acquire the tools necessary to lift themselves permanently out of extreme poverty. Give a Little describes dozens of these organizations that use affordable donations from everyday donors to transform lives. Their potential is limited only by the strength of our belief in the possibility of a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Most of us are not destined to go into the most remote areas around the world and build schools, provide livestock, distribute birthing kits, or construct bridges. But we can support those whose mission it is with our donations. In fact, there is no mission without your gifts.  Even long established nonprofits with worldwide networks of programming say that donations from everyday citizens make up the bread and butter of their funding.

Give a Little is both a book and a movement that inform everyday donors of the power of their contributions, which create ripples of positive change exponentially larger than the size of their checks. The book was released in November and has 5,600 fans on its facebook page. Many fans have shared stories of how they are starting ripples all around the world. Better World Books has more than 30,000 fans!  We are a movement. We do believe we are powerful. We will change the world.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.” Margaret Mead, anthropologist, 1901-1978

— Wendy Smith, Author


  1. Susan Allen says:

    This is so true. It is how World Vision works, and many NGOs where you sponsor a child. Also check out http://www.charitywater.org to see another variation of a theme…giving up your “birthday” to have friends and family give a donation to build wells in the developing world.

  2. Thank you Better World Books for your work! Please consider joining the Give a Little facebook fan page where we’re growing a movement to spread the word that everyday citizens are today’s most important philanthropists!

  3. Jane Mukungu says:

    A great message, giving a little to good causes can make such a difference. Sponsoring a child, from what I have seen in the field though, is highly problematic. Creates visible inequality within communities (the sponsored children are the ones with the new books, bags, uniform etc) and exacerbates stigma and discrimination – instead of allowing orgs to help whole communities lift themslves out of poverty, for example by building/doing something that benefits all. People like to think that their money is going directly to that one child though, so arent willing to allow the org to use it in the way they see fit, in some cases orgs have more money than they need to sponsor vulnerable children, while other projects (the ones which train health care providers, or build roads for example) cannot run because they dont have funding. People shouldnt need handwritten thank you letters by 8-year olds to give money responsibly, and from what Smith reports, I dont think it does. Just please be careful of child sponsoring projects! And dont even get me started on World Vision!

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