When we recently received an unexpected donation of $1000, we launched an experiment. As Mark Jacobs called it, CharityFocus's Little Give.
On HelpOthers.org, we posed a simple question: "If you had an extra $100, how would you use it to bring more kindness in your community?" Dozens of people wrote in ideas. And then we asked the Smile Group community to add "smiles" to the ones they liked. Top of the list was an idea by "MakeSomeoneSmile":
I would put a dollar in 100 envelopes with 2 smile cards and these instructions: May this make you smile. You can keep it or keep the kindness going by adding a dollar and giving it to someone else. Kindness is contagious! I would give them to people anywhere I could anonymously. Those 100 people would smile and some will keep it going!
And so 'MakeSomeoneSmile' started the project with his 4 year old daughter. People were reluctant at first, they tried another strategy, and then a third one. And by the end of their final trip, he concluded: "I had a chance to provide some 'on the job training' for a future HelpOthers member, my daughter Rachel. She wants to do it again and we most certainly will do something. Thanks to all of you for your support and for allowing me to share this with you. Everything matters, no matter how small the act. I was able to witness that firsthand with this project and it has truly changed me!"
Our next winner was this idea in the UK:
I would use it to plan an outing for a group of elderly people, who had no family as such. It could be used to give them a treat of a day out.
In July, this was the top idea:
I would buy small journals on the inside cover I will write: This is a journal to record Random Acts Of Kindness. Once you preform an act write it down and pass it on to the next person. Then they will add a kind act and pass it on. Once filled send it back to me so i can see all the kind acts that my one act started. So keep it going and Pay it forward. I will add my Address,e-mail and pocket for smile cards!
And this one:
I would find four terminally ill or very very sick children and buy them a $25 gift card each to Toys R Us and mail the gift cards to them anonamously with a note stating that "someone is thinking of you today - please enjoy and buy something fun!"
The August winner would do this:
My challenge is to give it away....and so it would be the most inspiring walk in my life. I would take my children and walk. I would walk into town and randomly pay it forward all day. Carrying bags for someone to their car. Give a few dollars to them if they are short on line. Pick up litter on the street and even donate a few dollars in all the cans in the stores. I would drop my card and little smile faces I found at a garage sale made of foam.
Our most recent September headliner was this idea of 'Giving Opposite a Pan Handler':
I want to take a $100 and using a paper clip, attatch $1 to a smile card with one of my own RAK cards. I want to stand on the street next to the panhandlers, and every person who stops to smile, give or just say hello to us, will get my small Gift. Just because. And hopefully it will inspire them to pay it forward.
Someone wants to start a gratitude program for women prisoners, another person wants to hand out roses at a local brothel, some people want to tag war refugees, some want to make $10 investments in good projects, and the list goes on. Couple others have decided to do a similar experiment with their own hundred bucks, and one person even sent us more money to keep the experiment going further.
It IS kind of amazing to see how many seeds a mere $100 can plant. But it's not just the money that makes it work. It's our history of service (ie. reputation of HelpOthers), coupled with good design, and ultimately -- trust. Because we give with no strings attached, the skeptics may wonder if these people will actually deliver. Well, we'll find out. Of course, we do have a wide range of information like how long they've been a part of Smile Groups, how many stories and comments they've contributed, how many KarmaBucks they've gifted, how many Smile Cards they've used, and so on. But in the end, it is just plain ol' trust.
As we develop our infrastructure, we hope to select one winner every week for a year. Let's see where this trust-driven micro philanthropy leads. :)