Living and Giving

International Giving: Why Your Investment Scales

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The Tsunami crisis in Asia… the earthquake in Pakistan… your son or daughter just returned from a college service trip in Tanzania, or you’re a young professional who’s always had a desire to know more about the favelas in Brazil.  With all of these headlines we are becoming more conscious of giving internationally.

Your decision to begin giving abroad is a wonderful, worthy endeavor on many levels. Giving to people in need in other countries will most likely change your life. You will learn about a new culture and connect across political boundaries. You may be moved and changed in ways you didn’t imagine—cultivating great sensitivity and empathy. And while you may be the donor, you might soon understand that it is you, too, who are receiving a gift—in fact, many gifts. Equally important, you\’ll be making an extremely significant impact, which you wouldn\’t be able to achieve in the United States. 

There are numerous strategic benefits to international giving. Let’s take a look at a few of them.   

Opportunity for All

Giving abroad is now a level playing field. Because the cost is so low, anyone, at most any age, can become a donor.  When I was growing up, people waited “until they were 50 to make it big.”  That’s when they felt comfortable and started giving.

But we\’re experiencing a new trend where even the youngest are giving early.  Teenagers are donating a portion of their allowances. Parents are helping their kids give back to their country of origin.  Families are tacking on volunteer trips to their vacations, and often provide a donation to the nonprofit with whom they volunteer.

Even 10-year-olds are giving abroad.  The other day we received a letter from Chris, an elementary school student in Ohio who had a philanthropy project. He set up a lemonade stand, raised $25 and sent the proceeds to UniversalGiving.  His letter reads: “Please send a soccer ball to a child in Somalia. Because soccer players are my heroes. Without heroes, there is no hop.”  (hope)

So now you can give $40 or $100 and not only make a difference, but change a life.  It can buy a cup of water, nutritious bowls of porridge, and in some cases, meals for an entire week.

How can your dollar scale like this?

In many developing nations, the local people are earning only a few hundred dollars per year.  GDP per capita in Haiti is $717.  In Liberia, it’s $219.[1]

So giving abroad allows everyone to make a difference.  You don\’t have to wait.  You can tangibly affect the quality of life – or even save a life – through a small, yet effective, donation.  It’s thrilling to know everyone has the opportunity to give.

Scalability of the Dollar

If we look at the influence of giving in the United States versus abroad, the margin for impact is much greater.  In the United States, you can buy an entree at a restaurant for $15.  In Myanmar or Venezuela, your $15 will feed a child for a month.  Your donation scales.

If we are going to continue to be courageous in giving abroad, let’s examine a more serious philanthropic investment.   In the United States, if you want to buy a house, the median four-bedroom house is $363,401.[2]  In Guatemala, a house can be built for $4,200.  And in Uganda, it costs $2,700.[3]   For one house in the United States, you can build approximately 86 houses in Guatemala, or 134 houses in Uganda.

What if you could provide hundreds of homes for people?  That is leveraged impact for your hard-earned dollar.

So whether you want to give $10, $100 or $10,000 — your money will have a tremendous impact.  It\’s an investment in people’s lives beyond their day-to-day.

Meaningful Impact

Let\’s think about that restaurant meal again. In the United States, people can get food from many different sources. People will give leftover meals to a homeless person.  Homeless shelters provide warm lunches. There are churches which hold regular mealtimes and service agencies which provide groceries.  We have food stamps, benefits, welfare payments, discount food stores, food donations and coupons. 

And yet with our developed economy, we have greater regulations. At times, this can make it hard to match needed resources with poverty stricken communities. Let’s take a look at some prominent bagel stores.  Due to food safety issues, these stores will often dump hundreds of leftover bagels in the dumpster every night.  Many nonprofit organizations simply aren’t allowed to accept them due to food and liability issues. The companies don\’t want to get sued for food poisoning. Yet so many people could benefit from these free, hours-old bagels and sandwiches. So there is a lot we can do here to channel resources to deserving people.

In striking contrast, this proliferation of resources doesn’t exist in Peru.  In one of my volunteer trips, I went one hour outside of Lima…and there were no shelters.  No food stores, coupons, discounts, churches, mealtimes. There was no safe haven, a place to run, an opportunity to receive guidance, an established shelter, much less a listening ear regarding the dire poverty one was facing.   There was relatively little job training. How would one get a step up and out of poverty?

So here’s where your “sandwich in Peru”, has a meaningful impact. That sandwich can buy multiple meals, help launch an entrepreneur, provide school supplies for a student.  Your donation is rare, valued and cherished.  There are limited other sources…and so your contribution has a serious impact on someone’s personal life, their family, and the community.  Equally important, it also provides a model for others in the community as well as other donors. The awareness about your donation scales and leads to more good.


International Giving is an opportunity available to all of us. At any time, we can achieve scale and meaningful impact through giving. We all want to be part of a positive solution to help others. So you can start today, with yourself, your family and your colleagues, to give internationally. You’ll have an impact which lasts a lifetime.