Thank you for the “Thank You”

I received some photos by email the other day that gladdened my heart.

They also proved the point  once again that taking the Big Fish approach to any endeavor is always likely to gladden my heart.

Let me explain.

The email was from a pre-K teacher I have never met. The photos were of drawings her students created in a classroom I have never visited. That teacher  took the time to send me an extraordinarily sweet note and those photos as way of saying “thank you” for a modest gift I had given through Donors Choose.

Donors Choose, in case you’re not familiar with it, is an online system in which teachers list small-scale projects for which they need money.  Folks who want to help can select specific projects that appeal to them, and then donate just to those causes.

Mrs. Brown, the pre-K teacher, had requested art supplies for her classroom. I, and eight other people, liked her idea and made donations.

For me, Donors Choose is the perfect format to use when taking a Big Fish approach to charity. I’ve used the system to contribute to a few projects  — each of which was small and manageable, where a positive outcome was easily measured, and where my modest gift could have a significant impact.

Unlike, for example, making a donation to the American Cancer Society or the United Way, Donors Choose gives me authority in choosing how my money is used. I’m not just a guy on a mailing list, I’m a Big Fish who has the ability to solve a problem and serve a community.

There’s nothing wrong with the big, national charities. Nor is there anything wrong with alumni associations, non-profit hospital fundraising drives, or political action committees. But I’m not a Big Fish in any of those groups.  Any money I give to those groups may be appreciated, but it’s never significant enough to influence policy.

I prefer to donate to situations where my money, even when it’s not much, carries some weight. I prefer to give to people who will use my money in specific ways that I can influence, or at least track.

So I’ve helped a few teachers through Donors Choose because I liked what they wanted to do, I knew it could be done, and I knew that my monetary help would be of actual help in getting it done.

I’ve made similar, Big Fish donations to other Small Pond organizations where I can see the impact of my gift. There’s a Catholic parish I like that helps immigrant families adjust to life in this country, there’s an inn in Colorado that offers housing to families who have children  being treated for cancer, there’s a church that runs a tiny homeless shelter at night in a school gymnasium. When I give money to those groups, I can see the influence I have.  I can weigh in on policy; I can choose exactly how I want my money spent; I can see results.

And those things are key to the Big Fish approach. Because being a Big Fish requires that we choose to spend as much time as possible in situations where our influence and authority are clear.

Because Big Fish know that results, not effort or intention, are what counts.

And Big Fish also like the occasional, heartfelt “thank you” note.

— by Paul Conley