Doing Good: The Difference Humor Can Make

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Doing Good

Breaking down African stereotypes

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: This week, Gayle Campbell is exploring the ways we think we’re doing good. Here is her final column in this five-part series …

We’ve been discussing the science behind “Doing Good”—the state of the charitable sector and the difference our donations can make. Around the world, charities are making a big difference, and so are the donors that support them. But with nearly half the world (over 3 billion people) still living in poverty, we still have a long way to go.

A surprisingly valuable tool in getting there? Humor.

Take, the non-profit co-founded by Matt Damon, for example. The charity is known for their hilarious fundraising campaigns, such as Damon’s “toilet strike”, where he publicly vows, in a video set as a press event, to not use the bathroom until the water and sanitation crisis is solved.

Damon even took a comical spin on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (which is closing in on $100 million raised, which is nearly double the total we reported in Monday’s Part 1 of this series). After he was nominated for the ALS challenge, Damon opted to douse himself in toilet water, highlighting the fact that while hundreds of thousands of people are dumping buckets of clean water on their heads, 800 million people in the world still lack access to clean water.

Damon and aren’t the only charities to invoke humor to make a difference. MamaHope, a non-profit dedicated to empowering local African organizations and communities, uses humor to poke fun at the way African people are often portrayed in pop culture and by other charitable organizations. One video from their “Stop the Pity” campaign features four African men ridiculing Hollywood stereotypes.

It’s the Labor Day weekend—so take a few minutes to watch the videos! They’ll make your day, and they might even encourage you to make a difference.




As we wrap up the series, give us your thoughts on this last post:
Are you more likely to donate to a charity that can make you laugh?
How is humor–and irony–changing the conversation on making a difference?


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Doing Good: Why do the poor give more than the rich?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Doing Good

Money falling into a pileNOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: Have you told a friend about Gayle Campbell’s fascinating series about the ways Americans are “doing good”—or, rather, the ways we think we’re doing good? It’s easy to share these columns with the social media icons on this page. Here is her fourth of five parts …

Yesterday, we learned that Americans generally donate around 2% of their discretionary income to charity. The number is a far cry from the 10% often encouraged by charities and religious organizations.

We could point to plenty of reasons for the discrepancy—tight finances and a tough economy would likely top the list. But that doesn’t seem to stop low-income households in the U.S. from giving.

Did you know that low-income households tend to donate a much larger share of their discretionary income than the wealthy?

In 2011, Americans in the top 20% income bracket contributed 1.3 percent of their income to charity, while Americans in the bottom 20% donated 3.2 percent of their income. The Atlantic Magazine calls this “one of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America.”

What gives?

Some experts have speculated that the wealthy are simply less generous, and as wealth increases, compassion, altruism and ethical behavior decrease. What’s more—a study at The Chronicle of Philanthropy found that wealthy individuals who live in affluent areas are less likely to give than those who live in more socioeconomically diverse areas.

Simply put: When the rich don’t see the poor, their inclination to give decreases.

Research by social psychologist Paul Piff, over the last several years, generally supports this argument. Want to hear from Piff? Here’s a 16-minute TED talk by Piff titled “Does Money Make You Mean?”

The percentage of income donated isn’t the only major difference in how the rich and poor are giving. The wealthy tend to direct their donations not to the needs of the poor, but to other causes including cultural institutions or universities (often alma maters.) The poor, on the other hand, tend to give to religious organizations and social-service charities.

What do you think? We’d love to hear your experiences!
Are you surprised to hear to hear those with the least are giving the most?
Does increased wealth often lead to decreased compassion?
Why aren’t the rich giving to charities that primarily serve the poor?

Doing Good: What 10 percent could do

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Doing Good
Chronicle of Philanthropy Stubborn 2 percent

Click this preview image to visit the Chronicle of Philanthropy and read the entire report.

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: This week, Gayle Campbell is exploring the ways we think we’re doing good. Here is the third of her five parts …

10% is the number we often hear in conversations on charitable giving. The origins of the figure date back to ancient times, when kings or rulers often mandated civilians pay a tenth of their goods or income to be offered as a sacrifice to the gods, or maintain the kingdom. In many religious traditions today, members are asked to “tithe,” or give back a tenth of their income to God.

On average, however, Americans generally give away just 2 percent of their disposable income, according to Giving USA, an annual report conducted by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. That’s a sizeable difference from the 10% giving level often suggested by charities and churches.

So, what could change if more of us gave our money away?

Giving What We Can, the organization we covered yesterday, gives us one example: “If the average US citizen gave 10% of his or her income to the Against Malaria Foundation, then each year it could distribute 700 mosquito nets, preventing 190 cases of malaria and 2.2 deaths. This would amount to saving 90 lives over the course of his or her life.”

Mike Holmes, of, points out that if all Christians tithed 10%, there would be an additional $165 billion for churches to use and distribute, and over the course of five years, hunger, starvation and death from preventable disease could be relieved, illiteracy eliminated and the world’s water and sanitation crisis solved.

Curious what kind of difference you could make by giving 10%? Check out this calculator to see how many lives you could save by donating 10%.

We want to hear from you!
Do you prioritize charitable giving in your finances? What keeps you motivated?
Are you surprised to hear what the world could look like if everyone gave?


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Doing Good: Not all donations are created equal

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Doing Good
Visit the Giving What We Can website

CLICK THIS SNAPSHOT FROM THE “GIVING WHAT WE CAN” WEBSITE to visit this project founded by moral philosopher Dr Toby Ord in November 2009.

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: This week, Gayle Campbell is exploring the ways we think we’re doing good. Here is the second of her five parts …

$335 billion—it’s the dollar amount Americans gave to charity in 2013. A Gallup poll from the same year found 83 percent of Americans say they donated money in the past year. In yesterday’s post, we examined the ALS ice bucket challenge, which has brought in over $53 million in 10 weeks.

One thing is clear: Plenty of us are giving. But how much good is our giving really doing?

That’s the question Dr. Toby Ord, a researcher in moral philosophy at Oxford University, posed—not just for Americans but for charitable givers worldwide—nearly five years ago when he founded an organization called Giving What We Can. It’s part of a movement called effective giving, and it’s aimed at helping donors maximize the social impact of their giving. (Wikipedia also provides an overview of the project.)

Instead of focusing on typical charity evaluator metrics like overhead cost, organizations like Giving What We Can and Brookyln-based GiveWell, assess charities’ effectiveness based on the number of lives their interventions can improve or save.

Take helping the blind, for example: A $40,000 donation to fight blindness, Ord points out, is much more effective when used for $20 surgeries that reverse the effects of trachoma in Africa than it would be to provide guide dogs to blind people in the U.S. The former, Ord argues, helps cure more than 2,000 people of blindness, while the latter helps one person overcome the challenges of blindness—a 99.95% value difference.

The difference in where we give our money could mean the difference in thousands of lives.

We want to hear from you!

When was the last time you made a donation? Maybe it was to the ALS Foundation!
How did you decide on your charity of choice? Do you know your donation is making an impact?
Does Ord’s research inspire you to reconsider your giving methodology? Or do you see gaps in his thinking?


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Doing Good: Is the ALS Icebucket Challenge truly good?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Doing Good

Muppets Kermit the Frog takes the ALS Ice Bucket challengeNOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: Please welcome back guest writer Gayle Campbell. I’ll tell you more about Gayle at the close of today’s column. Here is the first of her five parts on “Doing Good” …

By now, you’ve certainly seen it exploding across your social media feeds: Friends, dumping buckets of ice water on their heads, and challenging their friends to do the same. The Ice Bucket Challenge is a social campaign designed to raise awareness and funds for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gerhig’s disease), a fatal neurodegenerative disease.

Celebrities from former President George W. Bush to Bill Gates to Lady Gaga have all partaken in the challenge, which has brought in over $53 million in donations for the ALS Foundation, compared to $2.2 million they raised in the same time period last year.

The marketing seems brilliant: Succumb to peer pressure to prove your altruism, or face judgment from your peers.

And it’s clearly working: Facebook announced last week that more than 28 million users were talking about the challenge and 2.4 million Ice Bucket Challenge videos were shared on Facebook between June 1 and August 17.

But it’s this same logic that’s caused the campaign to be criticized by some as “Slacktivism”—online engagement that requires very little time, effort or money, offering participants the satisfaction of doing good without actually making much of an impact. One blogger even argues that participation in a feel-good cause like the Ice Bucket Challenge might lead one to compensate by doing fewer good actions in the future, an effect known as moral self-licensing.

Criticism aside, it’s hard to argue with the over 2,000% increase in donations to the ALS Association, which will be used to fund global research for treatment and a cure for the disease that affects approximately 30,000 Americans.

What do you think? We want to hear from you!

Have you participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge? If so, what motivated you to get on board?
If you’ve avoided the campaign, why?
Do you think the challenge promotes activism, or “slactivism”?






You know what to do! Use those blue-“f” Facebook icons and other social-media buttons to invite friends to read along with you this week!


Long-time readers of OurValues may recall that Gayle Campbell once was Media Director of our online project. A University of Michigan grad, today, she’s a professional communicator in Washington D.C., working in the fields of international development and exchange. Gayle occasionally returns to write on millennial matters, social justice issues and doing good. Click here to enjoy her earlier columns in OurValues. (If you click here, you’ll see today’s column at the top of the new page, but you can then scroll down to read 10 more).

5 World-Changing Truths: Be Grateful

This week, Dr. Wayne Baker welcomes world-traveler, communicator and educator Gayle Campbell to share five world-changing truths. That’s Gayle with students gathered around her in the photo, above. And, here is Gayle’s last column …

This week we’ve been talking about world-changing truths, specifically what I learned during my year teaching in rural Honduras.

Monday we started off talking about the value of simplicity, and how happy community and creative vitality can exist even in the most modest of places. I found, believe it or not, that some days it was nice to lead a simpler life. I used time I might have otherwise spent online or in front of the TV often outside, sometimes with other people or cook, reading, etc. As I mentioned on Monday, I loved watching kids play soccer on the local field. (The photo above, today, is from the village where I lived.)

There were far-from-pleasant experiences, too—water outages that lasted days, or week-long blackouts. But at the end of the year, I got to return to the U.S. and every modern convenience my heart desired. 

Back in Honduras, everything stays the same. The least I can do is to be grateful for what I have now that I’m back. So be grateful if you wake up every morning with reliable electricity and running water. Be grateful if your water is clear and doesn’t come out of the tap dirt brown. Be grateful if on hot days, you can switch on the AC, or on cold days, turn up the heat or take a hot shower. Be grateful if you have a garbage disposal, a cutting board, a dishwasher, or a washing machine. Be grateful if you own more than one pair of shoes, or more than a couple shirts. Be grateful if you have a grocery store closer than 3 hours away. Be grateful if you have paved roads. Be grateful if you have access to first-rate public health services and schools.

If you even have a third of what is listed here, you’re still in the top 3% of the world. You’re still doing better than 97% of other people. And for this, you should be grateful. 

What sparks gratitude in your life?

What do you think of the 5 truths I’ve shared this week?

Add your Comment below.

Originally published at, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.

5 World-Changing Truths: Solutions Aren’t Simple

Both political parties are promising to solve the world’s problems. Yesterday, I chided Chris Christie for boasting that getting tough with teachers is a solution. Today, I’m saluting Ann Romney for telling the Republican convention that there aren’t any easy answers—“but we’re not dumb enough to accept that there aren’t better answers.” That’s my own fourth truth, this week: Solutions aren’t simple, so we have to work harder with many people to face complex challenges.

In my year teaching 5th grade in a village in Honduras, I got a good look at international aid. I’ve seen how the best of intentions can go wrong. In my small town, there were foreign do-gooders working to improve the water-sanitation system, engage coffee farmers in microfinance (see the photo at top today), improve the town’s health system and schools. But sometimes aid isn’t helpful. In fact, despite the West spending $2.3 trillion on foreign aid over the past five decades, most people around the world still live on a couple dollars a day. Where is the disconnect?

Consider the good-hearted idea behind Tom’s Shoes: Buy a pair and Tom’s sends a free pair to a needy person somewhere in the world. But, does Tom’s realize that shoes sent to a poor town in Honduras—also could push a local shoemaker out of work? Or, do the Fair Trade coffee buyers realize that farmers actually lose a share of their profit to pay for fair trade certification? As it turns out, solutions to solving global poverty sometimes have unintended consequences.

Above all, aid strategies must be shaped by local input. People living in the community understand how things can go wrong. Think about these questions: How does education benefit students when they have to drop out at age 13 because they’ve developed dysentery from drinking tap water since they were born? How does better health care help when a farmer’s coffee prices drop and he can’t afford to feed his family? How can any of these practices become sustainable if children aren’t educated enough to continue them? The truth is that each one of these needs the other, and we still need more (reliable law enforcement/a crackdown on violence/medicines/etc.)

In my year in La Union, Honduras, it was incredible to see a wide range of efforts come together in positive ways, despite conflicting pressures. Real improvements always involved local families. I saw the pride of a farmer who learned to manage his money well enough to save for his children’s education. I heard students talk about how their parents wouldn’t let them drink out of the tap at home anymore because they had missed too many days of school from sickness. I saw students from the school volunteering at the clinic and the church. Aid isn’t a simple outside solution—it takes a community to shape a healthier future.

What aid efforts to do you support?

How do you suggest Americans pitch in?

What have you seen out there that actually works?

Add your Comment below.

Originally published at, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.