March 15th, 2012
March 15th, 2012
In 1982, I was 25 years old, living in NYC, doing international banking in the Asia Pacific region for Chase Manhattan. I didn’t love banking – nor was I particularly good at it.
One day a friend invited me to something called “The Ending Hunger Briefing.” At this 4-hour presentation created by The Hunger Project, I learned that -- 1) 41,000 people were dying daily from chronic hunger and 2) it was totally unnecessary. The World Food Council had recently stated that there was no shortage of money, food, and know-how needed to end world hunger. The Hunger Project had concluded that “what was missing” was a deep understanding that ending world hunger was now possible.
That event altered my view of the world. I had gone to a great boarding school, then a good liberal arts college, read the New York Times daily – yet the needless death of 15-18 million people a year was nowhere on my radar. The Hunger Project painted a picture of our world that my education had completely missed. (For a video about the hunger project click here)
Still holding down my day job at the bank, I began volunteering with The Hunger Project as much as possible. I learned how to present the Ending Hunger Briefing, and had the thrill of leading briefings in churches, schools, teacher in-services, companies, and for the public.
In 1985, I left the bank and experienced an amazing year of working on the Hunger Project staff. The problem was that I worked what seemed like 24/7. After that year, partly for the health of my marriage, I left the staff.
For the next 12 years I helped grow two businesses: first, my wife Barbara’s talent agency and then my brother-in-law’s chain of 150 book, music and video stores. Barbara and I still gave modest amounts of money to the Hunger Project -– but no longer my time. We made a good living but nothing to write home about.
Then, in 1997, a dear friend invited me to attend The Hunger Project’s 20th Anniversary gala. I saw so many folks I adored, people I didn’t even realize I had missed so much. And I was moved and inspired beyond measure. So I jumped back into volunteering, this time as a major gifts fundraiser.
The Hunger Project believes that people living in chronic hunger need to be respected for what they truly are– i.e., some of the most resilient, resourceful, and courageous people anywhere. To create a world free from hunger we need not charity, but co-equal partnership between those living with hunger and those of us with more than enough. Donors are asked not to “give” money, but rather “invest” in the end of hunger, and to expect a return on that investment: not financially, but socially, morally, and maybe spiritually.
Something I loved about Hunger Project fundraising was how you determine the amount you invest. It’s referred to as your “highest appropriate level”. I like to think of it metaphorically like tuning a violin on stage amidst a great symphony orchestra. First, I intentionally tune a string too high, then I bring it down so it is a little bit too low. Am I getting more in tune with my best self?
Going through that “tuning” exercise for my own giving in 1998, I was startled to have $100,000 come up for me as the highest appropriate level for me to give to The Hunger Project. I had never given more than $10,000 to any organization in a single year! Just imagining that gift, I felt a heightened awareness and very much alive. After discussion with Barbara and sleeping on it, we committed the $100,000 – roughly 1/8th of our total net worth.
One year later, Barbara and I chose commit another $100,000 to help launch THP’s African Woman Food Farmer Initiative. I had some new promising sources of income and figured at least one would pan out. But none did. It was heart-wrenching and humbling to think we had to back out of our pledge. But I made peace with it. It’s all part of life, right?
However, I kept thinking about it. Against all the conventional wisdom bouncing around in my head, we chose to stay the course and once again use our assets. I found a new financial advisor, and we greatly increased our awareness about our day-to-day expenses and how much we needed. Fulfilling that pledge ended up being a source of great joy and liberation.
Since 2002, I’ve been on the Hunger Project staff full time, responsible for major gift fundraising in the Midwest, Southwest and a few areas on the East Coast. I love fundraising as a chance to help people step up and boldly express their highest values and aspirations out in the world.
I came from a town and a family where the joy of giving was modeled and people were committed to the well-being of the wider community. The Hunger Project simply expanded my definition of community to include the whole world. Now there is no one who is not my neighbor.