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Helping Our Neighbors: Further Thoughts on the Armano Family’s Act of Charity

The Two Things You Need to Know from This Post:
1. The Armano family showed great compassion for Daniela and her children by rallying the support of their neighbors.
2. We need to continue this conversation in earnest to help reframe our understanding of charity and realign it with the realities of the new era.

The More Detailed Explanation:
With over 1 billion people on the Internet and over 3.3 billion owning mobile phones, we have entered the Interconnected Age. You have a more global view of the world, ideas spread instantaneously, self-organized swarms mobilize out of nowhere, and transformational events happen faster than before. These components of the Interconnected Age are redefining all aspects of your life, including your charitable acts. 

A Well Considered Risk
When I decided to write I Gave $10 to David Armano to Help Daniela and Now I Regret It, I realized I was doing something akin to approaching a gasoline-soaked bee hive holding a lit match in one hand and a can of hairspray in the other. Those of us steeped in social media can attest to the hive’s propensity to defend itself against perceived challenges. Add to that the fact that raising money as fast as the Armano family did requires a highly emotional situation (e.g. 9/11, Katrina, and the Tsunami).

Nevertheless, I felt it was important to offer you my view because of the potential we each now have to impact peoples’ lives in our backyards and around the world. As I shared on Twitter late Sunday evening, I am very pleased with the resulting discussion and feel we have learned much from it. Thank you for a civil, constructive conversation.

Into the Eye of the Storm
Within minutes of publishing the post, David Armano followed and messaged me on Twitter, we set a time to talk via telephone in the morning (as not to wake our families at that midnight hour), and he posted a quick blog comment. Our initial exchange was respectful and set a trustworthy tone.

When we connected the next morning, David and I spent about 45 minutes talking and sharing our thoughts with each other. Fortunately both of us have a pretty good-sized digital footprint, so we each had enough points of reference to determine the other was earnest and reputable.

During our conversation, he entrusted me with many details of Daniela’s situation and even gave her the phone to say a brief thank you. I can say with great confidence that I know both of them now. I felt the immediacy and reality of this still unfolding story, which can easily be overlooked when you’re separated from it by your computer.

What David Won’t Share, But I Will Because You Need to Know
One thing he impressed upon me was the dual responsibility we shared now. It is crystal clear to me that David and Belinda acted with great compassion to help a woman in serious need when others could not. Because of their religious beliefs discouraging prideful giving and the imminent threat Daniela’s estranged husband poses to all of them, they don’t want to share every detail of the situation. 

But you need to know a few more things so we can quell some unfortunate rumors some choose to spread:

  • Belinda became acquainted with Daniela by helping their church’s program for families with special needs children;
  • Daniela has endured serious abuse with police records to prove it;
  • Daniela and the kids were served an eviction notice during the holiday;
  • The Armano family sought help of local charitable organizations thru their church, but they found the options inadequate and not in her family’s best interest;
  • Because they have experienced their own difficult situations, they shared in Daniela’s suffering (true meaning of compassion) and this became intensely personal;
  • David and Belinda decided to redirect their charitable giving directly to Daniela to provide a safety net by opening their home and offering support to get them into their own apartment; and
  • The support Daniela has received has been uplifting and at the same time difficult given her personal ethic of being able to take of her family herself.

If you need more information than this, I suggest you put on your investigative journalist hat and find credible sources to prove this wrong. Anything short of that reflects worse on those who refuse to do so than it does on the Armano family or Daniela.  

Armano’s Unexpected Results and Responsibilities
Other less widely-known digital acts of direct support have been performed by non-social media professionals (see this compelling story), but this was the first by a social media micro-celebrity (his term).  The resulting flurry of responses have led us here.  In addition to the cash contributions donated, people have stepped forward with furniture, toys, and are providing connections to businesses willing to help.

Now with the dust is settling, David and Belinda have found they have some unexpected responsibilities. He and I discussed them and he acknowledged the same in his blog post from Sunday evening (I really like his neighborhood metaphor). The blog detailing the progress of their efforts and use of the funds is a solid first step for accountability. Because these funds are benefiting an individual, there will be tax ramifications.

Furthermore, the Armano family and Daniela will be subject to scrutiny of those who gave and those who know about it. It’s just like if you raised money to help the family next door from everyone in the subdivision. Everyone’s going to be watching, some questioning any new purchase.

Fundraising Sidenote: This drive followed the exact opposite pattern of traditional campaigns. Donations started on the periphery of their social circle and worked inward. Those who gave first were more distant digital neighbors, most of whom were separated by at least two degrees. It was later when their first-degree digital neighbors and geographic neighbors started to join with their support.

My Further Thoughts for You
So do I regret it now? That’s the question David posed to me regarding my $10 gift near the end of our call. It’s also what I imagine you’re asking about my decision to publish my previous post. That’s a simple question I choose to answer in multiple parts:

  1. “No” to the first question because there were no other viable options and she had an immediate need. I am pleased to help the Armano family support Daniela and her kids. 
  2. “No” to the second question because of the progress we’ve made in our understanding of the broader issues.
  3. I remain steady in my personal belief that giving to solve the roots of problems through sustainable non-profit organizations is the best use of my time, money, and energy. You’re free to choose otherwise.
  4. Since David used a real-time donation counter, everyone who gave past $5,000 did so willingly. For those of you who gave prior to the goal, we can choose to ask for a refund or let it go. I choose the latter.
  5. You and I still help others to serve our own interests and make ourselves feel good. That’s not a value judgment; rather, it’s a scientific fact we need to embrace. It’s called being selfishly altruistic.
  6. Incumbent non-profit organizations are at risk of becoming irrelevant if they ignore the fundamental shift in how we communicate, connect, and collaborate. Scandals in the wake of 9/11 and Katrina continue to erode confidence in them. Those who choose to embrace the immediacy, intimacy, and velocity of social media to demonstrate the impact they’re making in the world will thrive. The rest will cease to exist.

In case you question my own compassion, I appreciate firsthand the generosity of friends and family in times of dire need. We had our own rough stretch a few years back and got through it with some help. So this isn’t merely an intellectual exercise for me.

Let’s Continue This Conversation
Charity is an intimately personal act of kindness. It is not an act exclusive to non-profit organizations. Rather, these entities exist to facilitate our charitable actions. I have believed this for a long time. More so, even now.

This whole series of events has made me realize the work we have ahead of us to reframe our view of charity during the Interconnected Age. As Albert Einstein said:

Creating a new theory is…rather like climbing a mountain, gaining new and wider views, and discovering unexpected connections between our starting point and its rich environment. 

In this spirit, I am committed to continuing this conversation here and elsewhere. I joined MediaSauce to help transform how non-profits, corporations, and individuals create social good. There’s no where else I’d rather be professionally than here talking with you and everyone else interested in leading this social movement. If you do, too, I want to hear your thoughts and ideas in the coming days, weeks, months, and years.

Enough of My Thoughts, What Do You Think Now?
How can you best help people in need? Is it direct giving on a 1:1 basis or through non-profit organizations? What do non-profit organizations need to do to stay relevant in the Interconnected Age?

One stipulation – I ask you to maintain a sense of decorum and keep a civil tone during the conversation. I reserve the right to remove any comments making baseless accusations or other inappropriate statements.

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14 Responses to “Helping Our Neighbors: Further Thoughts on the Armano Family’s Act of Charity”

  1. Debra Snider Says:

    Scott, you have done it again. This is a thoughtful, explanatory and helpful post, with respect to both the questions it answers and the ones it raises.

    My preference when making charitable donations, and I contribute significant amounts each year, is to make them to nonprofit organizations. I choose NPOs where my money will make a meaningful difference in the org’s ability to help its constituency. I can also usually be counted on to support friends’ pet causes and even the occasional walk-a-thon type request, but I like knowing my money is helping to address root problems, not only symptoms, and that it’s not getting lost in a sea of bureaucracy.

    That said, I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. Direct giving on a 1:1 basis counts, too. It’s something most of us would likely do for family or close friends; thanks to social media like Twitter, the concept of close friends has broadened to include those within a degree or two of separation.

    It’s inspiring and encouraging that people are so willing to give when their hearts are touched. NPOs, I think, need to assure that their efforts also have “faces,” and that their messages don’t end up sounding more like sociology experiments than like real assistance to real people. They also need to make their efforts as transparent and accountable as the Armanos have. The active and responsive participation of NPO executives and staff on Twitter and other social media will go a long way toward keeping NPOs relevant and helping them develop whole new circles of donors.

  2. kristy graves Says:

    Much respect and appreciation for this post & discussion, thank you.

    I can’t help but think about William Drayton’s Everyone a Changemaker…

    “What we must do now is increase the proportion of humans who know that they can cause change. And who, like smart white blood cells coursing through society, will stop with pleasure whenever they see that something is stuck or that an opportunity is ripe to be seized.

    Multiplying society’s capacity to adapt and change intelligently and constructively and building the necessary underlying collaborative architecture, is the world’s most critical opportunity now…”

    Agree with Debra re: it’s not an either/or. It rarely ever is…

    Props and gratitude to Scott, David, and the community at large – not only for the generosity to Daniela, but also for the resulting (tremendous) learning and insight that’s been gifted us. Thank you.

  3. Becky Blanton Says:

    As someone who has been on both sides of the charity fence I want to thank you for this post. It was clear, honest and truthful. As a journalist I’ve done many stories – all of them resulting in the outpouring of generosity from strangers. So it is not a new thing – but perhaps new to the digital community. There are scams – more than I’d like to believe. Yet, if we do not keep trusting and giving, then we all suffer. Thank you for speaking out like you did. And for blogging about it.

  4. Christa M. Miller Says:

    When I give charitably, most important to me is that my money – which is scarce for my family too – is used toward the need the org purports it to be, not to print address stickers or cheap jewelry or other direct-mail tricks.

    Last year I donated non-food necessities to our church’s food pantry, because I found out that food stamps don’t cover basics like soap. It was a tangible community need and I knew the people involved – I knew that unlike in other area food pantries, they would not be stealing the goods for themselves.

    I got the same impression from David’s blog entry, mainly because people I trust trusted him. But I’ve avoided other online charities, even ones in the law enforcement community with which I work, because not enough information existed. Sociopaths can make their entreaties sound wonderful, and I don’t have time to research each one.

    So I guess my question is, as nonprofits utilize social media more and more to do good, how can they also protect donors? What unique challenges does the Internet present to the protective measures they already take? How can they guide potential donors in making informed decisions?

  5. David Armano Says:

    Scott, thank you for the follow up and for taking me up on my offer to have a phonecall about this. As you mentioned, we were both able to size up each others digital footprint. Once I realized that you were a honorable individual with a different perspective, it only made sense that we talk in ways that transcend the bright and shiny world of social media. Sometimes a good old fashioned non static phonecall is what it takes.

    We will continue to to the best with our new responsibilities as I know you are doing with the influence you have here at mediasauce. Thanks for being a Renaissance man of action who also thinks. :-)

  6. Beth Kanter Says:

    Excellent post. Thank you.

    I agree with it isn’t an either/or situation, although for the most part in my own giving (and fund raising), I give through trusted nonprofits. The main reason is that sometimes money isn’t enough to solve the person’s problem, that other services are needed and many times the nonprofit is in a better position to deliver those.

    I also want to make one more point. Given the success of this effort and others, those of us who want to use social media/networking tools to leverage our personal networks for charitable purposes might want to think through the best mechanism to do and clearly understand the responsibility and effort require of stewardship.

    As I said over at David’s blog, there isn’t one way to perform an act of human kindness.

    And, your point 6, I agree.

  7. Charlie Says:

    Great post, Scott. One brief comment:

    In my opinion no one is entitled to ask for a refund, regardless of whether they gave before or after the goal was reached.


  8. Beth Kanter Says:

    Scott: Okay, I thought about what you have laid out here and write up a summary, added some thoughts, and hope to continue the dialogue by adding more nonprofit folks into the mix.

  9. Connie Reece Says:

    Scott, thanks so much for continuing the thoughtful discussion generated around the Armanos’ act of charity and how David leveraged his social network to help. Along with Beth, you have turned this into a very valuable discussion about nonprofits and social media. I look forward to keeping this conversation going because it’s a very important one.

  10. Scott Henderson Says:

    Very insightful comments, everyone. I’m in listening mode right now. Highly encourage everyone to read Beth Kanter’s post – even if you already have. Read it again!

    Keep up the great discussion.

  11. Jasmin Tragas Says:

    Hi Scott, thanks so much for this post which I arrived at via Gavin Heaton. It has given me lots to think about. Last September I made the decision to raise some funds for a non-profit (to raise enough funds to create a microfinance program for a group of 15+ women.)
    I’m trying to do this as much as I can using social media and webby ways, and I am learning many things (and making mistakes, and learning some more from people like Beth Kanter) along the way. I do wonder whether it would be easier to raise funds if I was over in the Philippines blogging about the experience, but that’s probably not the answer either. You said “Incumbent non-profit organizations are at risk of becoming irrelevant if they ignore the fundamental shift in how we communicate, connect, and collaborate”. As a volunteer for one of these non-profits, I am trying to work out the “how.”

  12. Scott Drummond (Come Together) Says:

    Fabulous post Scott – very thoughtfully laid out and very conversational in its tone and intent.

    I don’t have any great insights to add really, just wanted to let you know that I’ve really enjoyed hearing from you and I’m now a subscriber to your blog.

  13. I Gave $10 to David Armano to Help Daniela and Now I Regret It « Rally the Cause Says:

    [...] Posts: Helping Our Neighbors: Further Thoughts on the Armano Family’s Act of Charity The Other Side of Charity: After the Money is Raised, Who Does the Heavy Lifting? Possibly related [...]

  14. Helping Our Neighbors: Further Thoughts on the Armano Family’s Act of Charity « Rally the Cause Says:

    [...] Helping Our Neighbors: Further Thoughts on the Armano Family’s Act of Charity 2009 July 5 by scottyhendo This post was originally posted on on 1/13/2009. Comments can be viewed here. [...]

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