A New Model for Philanthropy

CATALYST speaks with Taylor Conroy about why it's time to abandon the "broken" traditional model of philanthropy and what it means to "devote his life to the world."

Tell us more about your theory that the traditional model of nonprofit fundraising—as you say the one where "organizations using guilt to make people cough up cash"—is broken. Is it time for us to abandon this model completely? Yes. As in it should end YESTERDAY. That system has been broken since it was devised in the first place. While it may have started from a place of people really just wanting to help, it has been bastardized and overdone to epic proportions. I believe that though this "model” is in place to raise funds to decrease poverty, it actually increases it. The model perpetuates a separateness mentality by making people—who are likely proud, beautiful, wonderful people—into "them." It makes westerners look at people in poverty as very different from "us," and they are not. 

If we in the developed world knew that one of our siblings was starving, malnourished and exposed to diseases that were easily preventable we wouldn't stand for it. Same as if it was a friend of ours. Why? Because we feel connected to them. We look at our siblings or friends as the same as us—and thus we would never stand for seeing them in unnecessary pain. When we see pictures of people in the developing world, we don't look at them as being the same as us. So we tolerate it. And poverty porn (which is exactly what those images are) is part of the reason we tolerate it

What made you decide to give 10% of your income away to causes you care about?’—especially when you were driving a car with no reverse and only had 3 t-shirts in your outfit rotation? My life coach told me to. I had just hired her, and thought she was nuts. I had gone to her to learn how to MAKE money, not give it away. She insisted. She had a nice big house on the ocean… I had a crappy rented basement suite, so I took her advice. I thought I would wait till I made money to give it, until I heard this: "If you won't give 10 cents out of a dollar, you will never give $100,000 out of a million."

As you know, social media can be an incredibly valuable tool for galvanizing money and support. There’s been a lot of debate (especially after Invisible Children’s Kony video) about how social media is used to bring attention to humanitarian issues. How do you use social media/the internet to make a difference, without over-simplifying or stripping the issues of substance? I don't use it to make a difference, and thus I don't have to worry about over simplifying or stripping anything. I use social media to share what I am up to, and be social because that's what it's for. The Kony 2012 video will be getting analyzed up and down for years. People will use it to hear themselves talk and feel like they know what they are talking about by saying it was positive or it was negative, when really… no one can know. We cannot see what is going to happen in the next 10 years because of it, or what will not happen because of it.

You wrote on your website “I vowed to devote my life to the world for all of 2012.” What does devoting your life to the world mean? That I would be of as much service to the world as possible for one year, without thinking about my own profit or advancement whatsoever. I would use, "is this the best thing I could be doing for the world" as my decision maker and only do what was my highest and best use for the world. Keep in mind though, I am a believer that the more fun I am having, the better my work is, and that one needs to be happy personally FIRST before being able to make others happy. So I concentrate just as much energy on making sure I am very happy.

In your TED talk you mention books that make you think “if everyone read this book, the world would be a better place.” What books have inspired you? Half the Sky. I am going to leave it at just that one for now.

What’s the one thing you can’t travel without? Audio books. Do you have any idea how much you can learn while in airports?!!?! I crush an audio book or two on every trip. As soon as I get into the airport, the headphones are in and I am learning about ancient spiritual teachings, world issues, great entrepreneurs, or how to have better sex. I love audio books… and if you listen to them on an iPhone, you can double the speed and RIP through ‘em.

What advice would you give to a young person working fulltime with a limited salary who wants to make a difference in the world? I wouldn't give them advice, because the biggest thing I have learned after doing this stuff is that I don't know anything. Everyone is different, and everyone has their own special thing to give. I just happen to be in a place where I feel I should be doing things on a big scale. But that will pass. I know that within the next 5 years, I will move into a new phase, and to tell you the truth, that phase may involve me meditating in a cave in India for a few years. All I know is I am going to keep doing what I think is right for me to be doing right NOW, cuz that's all I got.

Now that you’ve shown the world that you can raise $5000 with a text message, and $10,000 to build a school in 3 hours, what’s next for Taylor Conroy? Raising $10,000,000 to build over 1000 schools, libraries, water projects, and more to improve the lives of 1,000,000 deserving people in 10 countries. Then I am going surfing