Nikki Lee


What if people had the same feelings about the charity they support as they do about their iPhone — what’s the best way to do that? …

Location: Seattle, Washington

Profession: Program Manager, Microsoft

Twitter: @nkkl

About: Nikki published a post “How To Win Friends & Give Away Your Money” on Medium in December 2014. This interview is a follow-up to her story of giving away $1,000 for 12 months via advice from her friends. Check out the article here.

After all these suggestions from your friends, do you have a charity of choice now?

Not really, after I finished the 12 months, I spun it off into a different direction! I’m matching my friends’ donations now so I haven’t been forced to make a decision yet. I wanted to keep the project going – I really enjoyed the participatory nature, my friends were talking about philanthropy for the first time and they were really engaged in the conversation. Now I’m just asking people to give $10 bucks a months. I had about 15 people sign up and every month I’ll give them a giving challenge. It’s mostly about keeping the habit going. They are going through it together as a group. I think that shared social experience is a big part of it.

You reference your parents’ giving, would you call them philanthropic role models?

We never had conversations about it, but when you are getting phone calls from organizations and you see that your parents give regularly, it sets up your expectations: when you are adult, you have a job, you give charity every year. I’ve definitely taken cues from that.

Also, I’m friends with the folks who are running The Awesome Foundation. Being around them has an influence. And the college I went to, philanthropy was a core value of the school. That was a huge influence.

Really, everyone in my life has had an impact – from the people I’ve found or who I’ve chosen to surround myself with.

What was your first charitable gift?

I had relatives who would be like “Happy Birthday, I donated in your name!” but I didn’t do my own giving. It wasn’t until I heard about the Awesome Foundation, and giving to my alma mater.

What was most surprising about this project?

How noteworthy people thought it was – I remember talking about it at work and chatting with my boss during weekly one on one’s. We were talking about the world, philosophy, and life and I told her about 12 months of giving. When my boss’ boss found out about it, she issued a challenge to our team to donate. I didn’t expect it to be a big deal. I didn’t think people would react as strongly as they did, but it’s been great.

You decided to give $1000 donations away every month. That’s a sizable amount of money for a young professional. Tell us more about this dollar amount.

It’s funny because no one talked about it directly. No one really asked me “Why are you giving that much?” They didn’t want to have that conversation to my face. I think because it’s taboo, but they asked my friends.

We need to find a socially acceptable way to talk about money. When we talk about gender equality, social economic equality, people don’t realize they’re getting underpaid, until they speak to co-workers. So I don’t think it’s just a giving issue, it’s much more complicated to try to solve. I think the starting point for giving is to talk about actions taken and not how much you gave.

What could charities do better to say thank you without asking again?

I do product design. I try to convince people to buy products, and I see so much of that is missing from philanthropy. If you try to sell something to someone by stopping them on the street and annoying them, it generally won’t work. The Red Cross can get away with it because they are so large. A small nonprofit can’t. At the end of day, you are selling somebody something. When you are for profit, you are selling something literal and explicit.

But, a nonprofit is selling something abstract – hope for the future, the idea that humanity will get better, positive emotions.What is the value proposition to the person giving you money? Presumably they believe in your organization. If you can figure out what brought them to you, you can find a way to engage them better.

What’s a charity that is doing this right?

I think Haiti Babi. I might be biased because their cofounder is a designer, but they are thinking about it in the right way, they celebrate donating. You are part of that process if you want to be and you can engage with stories of the people you are affecting. They got someone to write me a handwritten card to say thank you, it was such a nice touch. It didn’t annoy me; I was like “This is really awesome.” What if people had the same feelings about the charity they support as they do about their iPhone? — what’s the best way to do that?

What’s your dream for your project?

I’m trying to take it one day at a time; I have a habit of taking things too far. But I’d love to see this scale. It’s just one part of an ongoing conversation we should all be having about giving and how we view the world around us, trying to make the world a better place than it is. I’d love to see more people saying I can make giving more fun and engaging. That would be a perfect direction for this project to go in.



About

Julia Levy, Founder, has a decade of development experience, including working for a philanthropist, a small nonprofit and now a large nonprofit. She has raised significant dollars for numerous causes, from education to religion and from donors of all ages. Julia holds a Certificate in Fundraising from NYU’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and an undergraduate degree from Cornell University. Julia has taught fundraising workshops, most recently at Brooklyn Brainery and coached development professionals.


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