Jan 3, 2024
When It’s Not Actually “The Thought That Counts”
A message about impact for the new year from CEO Ben Erwin
Team Charitybuzz
Charity Network

January 2024. As we welcome in the new year, a lot of us are taking this time to reflect on the past and think about what lies ahead. Like many of you, I want to just FIX everything. I want to make things better, stop suffering, promote peace… That’s simply not possible. But it’s not all-or-nothing, which is why I’ve been working on ways to harness that unwavering desire to change the world. As my thinking on this topic continues to evolve, I’m compelled to open it up as a larger conversation. 

We need to do something differently

We have to admit the issues aren’t new: Inequality, oppression, greed, sacrificing sustainable lives for immediate satisfaction. Many of today’s societal issues go back as far as history’s been recorded. Circumstances may have changed, but the core challenges persist, despite centuries of charitable efforts. When certain solutions are not working, the conclusion has to be to try something different. If we’re trying to solve some of the most important problems, we should be operating strategically. Like with anything else, if one approach isn’t generating the results we want, we have to pay attention to why things aren’t working and plan new ways to move forward. 

So, looking at where we’re at, we can’t continue depending only on people’s altruism to make everything better. If we keep doing that, we can’t expect anything to change. The percentage of GDP going to charity has been stagnant at 2% for years. If we want that percentage to become 3% or 4% or anything larger, we have to figure out ways to make that happen beyond just saying “give more because it’s the right thing to do.” We’ve been trying that, and it’s clearly not enough.

Embrace all motivations 

Yes, I personally believe we should all strive for equality and peace because it’s how things should be. But idealism like that is not going to change the world, especially not on the timeline I have in mind. The issues are too complex and too massive. Let’s lean into the realist perspective. 

We have to accept that not everybody is going to inherently believe in taking action “because it’s the right thing to do.” Not everybody is passionate about making things better for others. Of course we should not stop trying to convince them that social issues are important, but we cannot rely on them changing other people’s minds and magically unlocking rapid progress. We need to be realistic. Instead of trying to change people’s core beliefs, we need to leverage what does motivate them. For example, some leaders may not care about diversity and inclusion, but they sure do believe in the bottom line. They believe in profit and growth. So let’s harness that capitalism to create the outcomes we want. 

“Pure” intentions do not translate to “better” impact

Is one charitable dollar donated by an idealistic person hellbent on making the world a better place worth more than one charitable dollar donated by someone incentivized by a tax break? Of course not. Either way, it’s a dollar. The motivation to give does not affect the value of that dollar. 

Why do we care so much about people’s intentions and ignore the outcomes? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? If we embrace all contributions, we’ll be able to actually move the needle on these issues. If our premise is that more money to charities leads to better outcomes, then all we need to focus on is how to increase charitable funding. To mobilize as many resources as possible, we need to appeal to audiences broadly. If that means people will donate to charity because they want access to things like celebrities or sporting events, for example, then awesome, let’s do it. 

If we’re expecting people to divert from the status quo, we need to appreciate what motivates them. Someone driven by altruism and compassion to take action is great. Equally as impactful is someone taking action because they’re driven by profits. Or recognition. Or even position in society. Motivations do not change the fact that, in the end, more money is going toward a vital cause.

What if we judged, questioned or rejected the swath of contributors who come in with various motivations outside of “doing good?” The only outcome is to discourage people or businesses from continuing to try – and that’s completely counterproductive. It’s hard enough to get people to part with their money, so we need to remove the barriers to giving, not layer on more in the form of criticism. If capitalism is forcing a person to do something that helps create a better future, I want them to embrace that motivation and take that action 100 out of 100 times. If business success drives impact, I’ll take it. 

And that’s what’s propelling me through this new year. We can make a tangible impact on difficult issues if we center our efforts around RESULTS. I will be pushing hard on this mission through my work with both Charitybuzz and YPO, and I look forward to joining the growth of the capitalism-for-good movement. 

With optimism for 2024,

Ben Erwin

CEO, Charitybuzz