My relationship with philanthropy is a somewhat non-traditional one.
I’m all about investing extra time and energy in in others, but I think feel that most people don’t do it the most optimal way, which makes them feel good, but doesn’t do a whole lot for the charity they are purportedly helping.
For example: if a Fortune 500 CEO were interested in helping your organization out, would you rather he or she came in and served soup to the poor or would you prefer to receive the money that the time they would spend serving soup is worth?
That’s thousands (possibly tens of thousands) of dollars which could be used to buy lots of soup. People who don’t make as much can easily come in and handle the ladle. It’s all about smart application of resources. Most non-profits don’t seem to get this, and therefore end up spending more time and money on managerial processes than their cause, which severely limits their effectiveness.
And so it was with a bit of skepticism that I accepted an offer and a plane ticket to fly up to Auckland last month and visit a camp for very young children who have serious heart conditions.
I was asked to visit, along with my good friend Nathan Seaward, to hang out with and talk to the kids, show them what young people can do, how we can overcome adversity, challenge the status quo, etc etc etc.
I felt pretty well prepared — I’ve got my share of sob stories, and the happy endings that eventually came about because of them — but after talking to the kids and finding out more about what they’d been through, I realized that I was going to do a whole lot more learning than teaching.
Most of the kids were tweens; not quite toddlers, not quite teenagers. But they had already gone through so much in their short time on Earth. Many had already undergone several open-heart surgeries.
But rather than being downtrodden and depressed, these were some of the most well-adjusted, perky, and sprightly kids I’ve ever met. They were contentedly running around, climbing trees, surfing and teaching me to play rugby (and thankfully not beating me too badly). Most had the ‘old soul’ look in their eyes, but it seemed to be the kind of wisdom that encouraged living life to the fullest rather than mourning their fallen brethren.
And they do have their share of funerals. Many of these kids attended the camp for younger kids in the years previous, and each year there are a few friends who don’t show up. I can’t imagine dealing with that kind of heavy reality at that age. I don’t think I would manage too well at my age.
A big part of why these kids have been able to grow into fully-functioning, fun-loving and active members of society is the Heart Children organization. These are the people that brought Nathan and I up to see the fruits of their actions, and after meeting the people they have on staff at the camp and seeing how they use their resources, I can tell that this is the kind of group I have absolutely no problem investing my time and money in helping achieve their ends.
This in mind, I agreed to participate in an event called the Heart Stopper Challenge.
For this event, I will be getting together with some local friends (Nathan included), dressing up in Air New Zealand pilot uniforms and sitting in a hot tub full of ice water for five minutes. The event will take place in Cathedral Square, at noon, in the middle of downtown Christchurch, and all the funds we raise for the event go straight to Heart Children so that they can continue to provide support for the kids and families of kids impacted by heart problems.
Update: December 16, 2016
That ice cold water challenge was a doozy. And the experience with the kids at that camp was wonderful, and quite memorable.
It looks like the charity has rebranded as Heart Kids since back in 2010, so I changed the link above. I also removed the links to the event and such as it was a long time ago and there were a few paragraphs that were just dead links. The charity itself is worth checking out, though, if you’re looking for a way to directly contribute money, or to find out how you can volunteer for the cause.
Also, what I mentioned at the beginning of this post is similar to what’s since be named Effective Altruism, if that concept resonates with you.