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DIY Philanthropy - Four Simple Tips on Helping Directly
Hank Pellissier   Jul 18, 2015   Ethical Technology  

I critiqued the Effective Altruist movement in a previous essay, and suggested a superior alternative: DIY Philanthropy. My recommendation is to erase the ‘middleman” in charitable giving by donating directly to the people you want to assist. Instead of spending hours trying to decide the best non-profit to scribble a check to, you can travel directly to those in need and hand them cash, food, medicine or supplies. Face-to-Face.

The experience of watching grateful children gobble the chow you just provided in infinitely more emotionally and intellectually satisfying than popping an envelope into the mailbox, or clicking the Donate button on a website. Plus you don’t have to wonder what actually happened to your money, and you can fashion precisely the type of compassionate action you wish.

Hundreds of people are already DIY Philanthropists. Crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo and GoFundMe are chockfull of humanitarian entrepreneurs; meandering over to those sites today I quickly found a Liberian school ($4,015 raised), Food Distribution to the Rohingya ($15,555), and Ending Bullfighting ($23,429). Many crowdfund campaigns are successful, many more are not.

People who participate in “volunteerism” - traveling to Cambodia, for example, to help out in an orphanage, are also DIY Philanthropists. Doctors who spend their vacations performing operations in Haitian hospitals certainly qualify. School groups in Minnesota who collect blankets and jackets and deliver them to nearby Dakota reservations are excellent examples. At the recent World Cup in Brazil, the Ghanian soccer star Sulley Muntari handed out money to disadvantaged individuals in a poor neighborhood near the stadium. He’s a stellar DIYer.

Large nonprofits try to personalize the giving process, but their ability is limited. My 15-year-old daughter sponsors a girl (Warnelisa) in the Dominican Republic via Children International; she receives a letter from her once a year. Can she telephone Warnelisa? Can she wire her family money directly? Nope, she can’t. My brother Robert annually donates a milk cow to a villager, via Heifer International. Does he have photos of the cows? Or of the recipient villagers? No, he does not.

Of course it is easier to simply sign a check or instruct your PayPal to issue an amount to an NPO. You do receive, and deserve, a hit of oxytocin for this benevolent action. But I’ve never heard anyone describe the strike, faceless business of transferring money as a “Life-Changing Event.”

Poverty stinks, for example. Literally. If you’re willing to travel and mingle with destitute people, you’ll suffer an unforgettable sensory onslaught. There are indeed children who have only one ill-fitting outfit, children who are seldom cleaned and have no sanitation facilities, children who have diseases that are never cured, children who are seldom fed, children who are neglected, abused, and not allowed to attend school.

Here are four simple tips to help you give what you want to whom you want:

1. Identify The Issue That Elicits Your Greatest Empathy. What moves you to tears? hat tugs at your heart? I Fairfax, California, 8-year-old Vivienne Harr was appalled when she learned about child slavery.  To combat it, she set up a Lemonade Stand that has presently raised over $100,000.

My own non-profit, Brighter Brains Institute, has set up eight clinics in Uganda that are attached to orphanages, preschools, and primary schools. I’m an ex-preschool director and author of the IEET essay “Six Brain Damage Scourges the Cripple IQ in SubSaharan Africa.”  I researched numerous factors - malaria, violence, malnutrition, lack of parents — that maim children’s brains, and I launched the clinics to combat these conditions.

2. Find People “On The Ground” that You Trust I have two friends who are well-aquainted with Uganda: Douglas Cruickshank was a Peace Corps volunteer and Roger Hansen is an IEET writer, humanitarians, and MTA member Roger Hansen. Through Douglas I met Joseph Kasiribehe, a community organizer in in the small village of Kyarumba, in the Ruwenzori foothills. Additionally, I am acquainted with Stuart Beckman, former President of Athiest Alliance International (AAI).  AAI recommends donating to a secular school in Western Uganda - Kasese Humanist Primary School,  directed by Bwambale Robert Musubaho.

In the last year I’ve raised and donated approximately $30,000 to establish clinics in Uganda, and set up BiZoHa - the world’s first atheist orphanage. I wire the money to Joseph and Bwambale; I’vemetthem both, I enjoy their company, and I trust them 100%.

If you don’t know anyone in the Peace Corps or anyone who knows someone else in the region you want to assist, you don’t have an excuse - you can jump on a plane and go find them. Hundreds of grassroots charities have Facebook pages or websites with contacts listed. You can email, phone, or Skype them, or best-of-all, arrange a visit. Turn your next holiday into a humanitarian investigation; take some extra cash if you get the urge to hand-out.

3. Get the Money Together Maybe you’ve got your own “excess income” to donate. Years ago, I had an expendable $6,350, so I purchased 7 hectares of agricultural land on the island of Mindoro, The Philippines, and donated it to a starving Mangyan indigenous tribe. I’m short on cash these days, so I run crowd fund campaigns instead- two Indiegogos and eleven GoFundMes in the last 15 months, that have gained amounts between $0 and $5,820. I don’t know precisely why some work and others do not, but I can tell you this: don’t launch until you’re networked into a sizable community that * might * support what you’re doing. Get 5,000 Facebook friends, 3,000 Twitter followers, and 1,000 LinkedIn connections, for example.

Additionally, tell your closest family members and friends what you’re doing. Maybe you have aunts, grandparents, siblings or cousins that will want to help. I do. I am regularly amazed and indebted to the generosity of my relatives.

Do you belong to any groups that your campaign might appeal to? I raised the most money for BiZoHa, “the world’s first atheist orphanage.” Many atheists were happy to contribute to this ground-breaking venture. I’ve also raised funds from transhumanists who support technological training and science education, and are wiling to give to projects I launched like the Carpenters Workshop for AIDS Orphans and the Science & Literacy Centre in Kyarumba.

4. Provide “Perks” For Your Big Donors You might be more successful in fundraising if you offer big donors irresistible benefits. I’ve launched eight clinics in Uganda, and had 4 buildings constructed — all 12 projects are named after the primary donors name; i.e, Bruce Chou Classroom, Andrea Vogt Clinic, Christine de Brabander Kitchen, Biba Kavass Clinic, etc. I’ve also given “BiZoHa Orphanage” t-shirts to donors who contribute $50 or more, and ebooks - like Bwambale Robert Musubaho’s “Orphans of the Rwenzori” - to everyone. Additionally, big donors also want a Tax Deductible Receipt. This can only be provided if you have non-profit 501c3 status, or you are “fiscally sponsored” by a NPO. (Brighter Brains Institute offers this for a very manageable fee).

Ready to Start? I wish you the best in your goal to help others directly! If you want assistance, or on-going consultations, email me at

Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Managing Director and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.


I like the idea of DIY assistance.  My only concern is with the financial and environmental costs of the travel.  I rationalize my travel, but I realize that my rationalizations are a bit of a stretch:  (a) I love to travel; (2) my grandkids are getting old enough to travel and they need to see conditions in developing countries; and (3) I try to do as much as possible for as many groups as possible on each trip.  But DIY travel is an expense and it does reduce the amount of money in the pot for in-country projects.  So there is the dilemma.

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