A few years ago and a few days before Christmas I was at a thrift store on Gratiot Ave looking at old records. Old records make good gifts for people who like old records. ;)
I saw an older lady, maybe about 70, who looked very frazzled. You know how sometimes when you see someone you can just feel that they could use a little help? Specifically monetary help. I'm not going to assume everybody who's doing their Christmas shopping at a thrift store needs help, but I felt compelled to do something in this particular situation. I opened my wallet as I walked towards her, took out a $100 bill, and as I gave her the bill said "I'm supposed to give this to you." I wasn't sure what to say exactly and that's the first thing that came to mind. What do you say to someone when you're giving them money without coming across as condescending or "I'm better than you"?
She was obviously very thankful. To be honest, I don't know how much that $100 helped her. I think it probably did since if you take a random sampling of people at any time of the year $100 will probably help the majority of them.
Since that time I mostly stopped giving to large charities. It's not that I have a problem with giving to large charities, but without seeing the direct impact of my giving it's difficult to feel it. If you give someone even just $1 when they're short at the grocery store you can see and feel the direct impact. That's a lot more fun and in line with how I'd like to align my life.
I can't say I go around all day handing out wads of cash. I do it when the opportunity presents itself, but how often do these opportunities present themselves?
In other words, how often are we present enough to notice when someone else is struggling? Usually when we're out we're too caught up in what's happening with ourselves and our grocery lists and our cell phones to notice. We're generally lazy like that. That said, now that you've read this I have a feeling you'll be a little more aware when you're out and about.
Marc Gold, My New HeroI don't know Marc Gold, but he's a new hero. I just read about him and his 100 Friends project a few days ago. You should read that site to get the whole story, but essentially Marc spends a few months every year raising money which he then takes directly to Third World countries to help people in need. He gives small amounts that make massive impact. A dental visit. A wheelchair. Fixing a broken rickshaw.
Each one of us has the power to change a life. You have the power to change someone's life. It doesn't take much.
Microfinance and The Future of GivingAnd this is why I like the idea of micro finance, small giving directly to people who need it. I've been a member of Kiva.org since October of 2007. Through Kiva I get a similar feeling as what I felt during Christmastime at the thrift store on Gratiot Ave, but I get it far more often because Kiva gives me ready access to people who need just a little bit.
The Kiva Lending Team I started on March 4, 2010 has already loaned $11,925 to entrepreneurs around the world. We've got 30 fantastic members who have made a total of 110 loans so far and I'd love for you to be a part of that team as well. Click here to check out our Team.
I've received a few e-mails about Kiva and how it works, how I choose who to loan to, and how to make sure I loan to someone who will actually pay back.
The way Kiva works is that you give an interest free loan to someone in need. Over time, they pay it back. Technically you lose money due to inflation, but as money is paid back you're able to reloan it over and over. $25 can be reloaned for the rest of your life and affect the lives of literally thousands of people over time.
There is, of course, the risk that your money will never be paid back. The current repayment rate (which can be found here) is 98.91%, meaning 1.09% of loans aren't paid back. So far every loan I have made is either in the process of being repaid or has been fully repaid.
How To Choose A Loan
Kiva allows you to choose your loans by many factors. Male/Female, specific regions, certain industries.
I don't focus on anything except industries. Male/female/country/age and superficial things like that don't matter. I focus on the business aspect of the loan. In my entrepreneurial mind there are a few business that will always be in need. Services (such as auto repair), transportation (taxis), and food (stores and farms). I don't loan to any food places that sell or slaughter animals, but I do loan to general stores.
Once I've selected an industry I click on a few of the available loans. My first point of interest is the Field Partner (the organization out in the field who actually gives the loan). I want to know how long they've been on Kiva, how many loans they've given out, and, most importantly, what their default rate is. If the default rate (the percentage of loans that aren't paid back) is anything other than 0% I move on to a different loan. Let other people take that risk.
If the default rate is 0% I read about the entrepreneur, why they're looking for a loan, how long they expect it to take to pay back, and my general feeling towards them. If the payment term is anything longer than 12 months my feeling is that they're asking for more loan than they need and I move on. In a few cases, based on the story, I have given loans with longer than 12 month payment terms, but I generally stick to this rule.
If I like their story and everything else is good I go ahead and loan. The allowable loan is as little as $25, but depending on how I feel, I've given upwards of $250. Most often I give $25. In my mind it's more fun having a few dozen people give $25 each to help one person than just a single loaner giving the whole amount.
The Future of Giving Isn't Only About MicrofinanceWhile giving small amounts of cash is cool, the reality is the future of giving is helping in seemingly small ways that have a direct impact.
Maybe there's a hungry stray kitty who hangs around your house? You don't have to take it in, but for $50 you could get it spayed/neutered and help control the exponentially growing homeless pet population.
Or maybe you live in a freezing cold place and can put up a small bird feeder to help the birds that didn't head south for the Winter actually make it through the deep freezes?
Or maybe you consistently see a guy on a street corner begging for change or food? How many of us stop and actually give a sandwich? It's not a massive gift, but it helps.
It doesn't take a lot to change a life. Marc Gold has proven that, Kiva has proven that, and I hope I've proven that as well.
You can get started giving by simply sharing this article with one person via e-mail, or sharing it on your Facebook or twitter. The more people who realize how powerful small giving can be the more powerful small giving will be ...