Some kids are better experts than grown-ups, and we should listen more

Lucy Bernholz of philanthropy 2173 has been blogging about conversations with a ten-year-old boy who has some great insights about philanthropy, doing good, and the nonprofit / social enterprize world in general. I’m reposting bits here so I don’t forget them:

Sources: and

The 10 year old sent me a 4 page document answering my three questions:

  1. What is the organization trying to do?
  2. How do they do it?
  3. And how do they know if they are making a difference?

[If you can answer these three questions, you are probably going to be able to convince a whole lot more people to help you.]

Here are some of the issues about giving that the 10 year old raised:

  • Overhead is complicated.
  • It’s hard to choose between supporting a school that serves more kids less deeply or fewer kids but for far longer periods of time.
  • Some organizations are really clear about what they are doing, how, and how they are measuring it (see his "write up" below on the Homeless Prenatal Program)
  • Some organizations are not so clear. Their websites have a ton of information, but not all of it is helpful.
  • Saving the animals, saving the earth, and changing how people behave are all related.
  • Not all of the work he cares about gets done by 501c3s.
  • Giving takes a lot of thought, but in the end there is still a lot of feeling involved. It doesn’t feel like there is one right answer.
  • The "Hunger 101" gadget on the website of the SF Food Bank is "magnificent and all of us, 10, 40-something, and 80-something, learned from it."

[To me, these points are more insightful than any telepundits I see on TV. Why can't we put more kids in charge of strategic thinking and leave the following-orders stuff to adults? Perhaps when I am in Kenya in 2011 I will remember to ask more kids what they would do on a strategic level to solve big, intractable, community-wide problems.]

"Is ‘overhead’ what you call meetings? You go to so many meetings, Mama?"
"– I don’t want to fund meetings. I want to help girls go to school in places where girls don’t get to go to school."
Talk about being put in my place, Lucy Bernholz concluded.

[So many we're not learning how to accomplish more with less time and money than before. I've started reading Quicksilver this weekend thanks for a loan from John Heckliner. Somehow this fragment of prose connects to this conversation in my mind:
"…the pure living essence of God's power and presence in the world — the key to the transmutation of metals, the attainment of immortal life and perfect wisdom." (p26)
These were the three things daring men sought in the seventeen hundreds: money, immortality, and wisdom. How is it that in the 300 years since we've allowed ourselves to be ruled by such pedestrian visions? We have more money, a longer lifespan, and supposedly more wisdom by many measures, and yet in the fictional worlds I create in my novels, these three are always implicitly linked as ends to be traded for each other. You can attain great wealth but only at the expense of your life and wisdom. Or you can become wise, but only along paths that rob you of material possessions and comfort. Or you can achieve immortality of sorts through fame and glory of becoming an inspiration to many but it will cost you everything. Perhaps Saving the animals, the Earth, and changing how people behave all linked (as this ten year old astutely gets) but in the same trade-off way. Is it dangerous to posit that if wealth comes at the expense of the Earth, then protecting life must also come at the worthy expense of wealth? How is it that one is obvious, but the equivalent idea is something to be described in a whisper, and never spoken from a podium?

So thanks, ten-year-old kid, for getting me to start thinking a bit more about big stuff and how I can help more kids control and frame these kinds of debates next year.]

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