hunger is boring

Hoots batted me a blog link yesterday. Ed Nicholson over at Tyson Foods had this thought in his blog,

“Yet the overwhelming majority of the communication I receive from some hunger organizations is, “Please send us another ten dollars. It will help feed twenty hungry kids.” I know this. So do the tens of thousands of your other supporters. It sounds eerily like a 1980’s Sally Struthers TV spot.”

boring?You can read Ed’s full post here. I don’t know Ed but it seems like he’s passionate about feeding people and the cause of hunger in general. Yet I was bothered by the implication that most of the organizations who are “talking” about hunger are only asking for money.

That’s certainly not the entire point of his post but it was what hung me up. That “hand out” stuff isn’t about relationship. And it isn’t what most of you do.

Maybe the nonprofits we know are different, but the conversations I’m involved in deal with the root cause of hunger and the long-term implications. Lately, the very real plight of the newly-poor has occupied our thoughts. Many of you have been working through the spiritual implications of hunger.

One thing I know about Ed from reading his blog is that he’s passionate. Hey, passion is one thing we at Oneicity understand–and if you’re a regular here, you’re passionate, too.

So, do me a big favor: drop in on Ed’s blog. Leave him a comment about what you think about hunger. If nothing else, help him understand why you don’t want to talk about hunger. I came close to saying that his concept was boring (I’m hoping he’ll understand that I didn’t mean he was boring). And tell him that Steve Thomas over at Oneicity sent you. Let’s lift his spirits, have some fun and get a conversation going.

So, is hunger boring unless you’re the one whose stomach is growling?

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credits: vmiramontes)

Picture of Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

12 thoughts on “hunger is boring”

  1. Thanks for this post, Steve.
    We’ve been pretty deeply invovled in the issue of hunger for almost ten years now. The one thing I can say (and I hope some of the hunger fighters will say) is that it’s not a “boring” issue.:) There are a number of extremely passionate communities out there, and you get them together in person, you’ll see some vibrant, impassioned discussion. The general point of my posts this week is that when these people and groups are trying to engage their stakeholder bases, the first approach is often the “ask,” rather than the discussion and revelation that leads to the engagement (and ultimately the gift).
    And I might ask specifically: Why is this discussion not occuring–and why are these communities not coming together and bringing more peole in–online? I’ve heard of _closed_ communities–listserves, restricted forums, etc. But nothing yet that invites the unconverted into the discussion and the community.

  2. I don’t think that hunger is boring but I do think that unless you are hungry it isn’t really something that your average Joe wants to talk about or hear about all the time. Hunger fighters and hungry people could talk about it all the time but it’s the general public that we need to engage in conversation with. Now to figure out how to do it!

    I think that by us talking about how much money we need or what it cost to do this or that completely desensitizes the public to the plight. They need to realize that with all of the “newly poor” this could be them but who wants to hear that?

    We need to come up with some innovative hunger awareness campaigns that don’t necessarily involve raising money but that focus on awareness. Once the awareness is there the money will follow!

    Great post by the way!

  3. Ed asked a great question.

    I’m thinking it’s “guilt” not “boredom” that often tunes us out to the messages of hunger and need. I’m not so sure we always want to know… and if we do, perhaps it’s to know just enough to allow us to give a little to make the guilt go away.

    Seems to me the boredom could also go away if we changed our collective perspective on how we view those needing help.

    I’m learning an really vital lesson from our mutual friend Ken Loyd (http://www.homepdx.net) as he serves his “friends who live outdoors” in Portland. A while back Ken received a small grant to create a prototype he called a “Space Bag”. It was a small mylar bag with contents intended to meet the average daily requirement of calories and balanced nutrition of a person living outdoor in the city. The game plan was to create a bag that could then be duplicated by churches or other volunteer organizations. What makes Ken’s approach so different is that he is totally customer centric.

    Ken would say “It’s our goal to give our friends what they want, not what we want them to have.” So he did a “test market” of the contents of the bags. Day after day he would bring samples and do taste tests on the streets and ask for feedback. Only the sure fire hits when into the Space Bag. Ken also knew that a “Space Bag” that would be a big hit on the streets of Portland would fail miserable in Brooklyn. The homeless cultures in both cities are so different in terms of ages, ethnicities and habits. Ken’s idea is not only to create the Space Bag, but to create a methodology and giving culture that is customer centric, market driven.

    Wow, doesn’t it start to get exciting when we get into our marketing mode? When we see the people we help as customers we have a whole new challenge. Think how it honors and inspires the people we serve when we give them relationship and respect as customers as we meet their needs!

    I’m getting myself all fired up just thinking about it.

    If this way of seeing things has your juices flowing, let me recommend a great read: The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz, founder of the Acumen Fund tells her story of bring the principles of entrepreneurship to bear on meeting the needs in Third World nations.

    So much to learn, so little time!

  4. Deborah Gohrke

    Not sure I understand your thoughts on this. Hunger isn’t the problem, homelessness isn’t the problem, poor people aren’t the problem, poverty IS the problem. Hunger is symptom of the much bigger issue of poverty. Perhaps poverty is a symptom too, of greed and injustice? Maybe greed/power/privilege that result in systemic injustice is the real problem? There is often a fairly obvious relationship between the ability to amass large amounts of wealth and power and the use/abuse of the poor. All kinds of quotes are rushing into my head: “When I feed the poor they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist”(can’t remember who said this, sorry) and
    “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” (Mother Teresa) and “Love is a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us, but it is the only answer.” (Dorothy Day)

    I think if you are going to talk about hunger you will have to talk about all these other things and eventually reach the point of the indictment of someone and maybe self-indictment. OUCH! Maybe that’s why we don’t talk about it?

    (I’ve had way too much coffee today and not sure this isn’t just a rant rather than a thoughtful comment…but it is the best I can do right now.)

  5. Steve – If hunger is boring (not saying it is) it’s only because some of us have made it so.

    We’ve turned the storytelling and funding appeals into forumulaic nonsense that seeks to address the symptom and not the disease. Ignoring the disease wasn’t a deliberate slight, it’s just that focusing only on the symptom worked so well for so long. Believe me, I’ve been a party to it ever since I worked in the downtown rescue mission that pioneered “your donation of $15.70 will provide 10 meals to the hungry” back in the day. I’m not proud.

    Like it or not, the ones who are raising money to alleviate hunger will have the bully pulpit. They are closest to it from the service side, and they really do care about the outcomes. Of course, they’re pretty busy right now tending to the needs of their flock, so the creative solutions may have to come from the outside.

    Isn’t that your department? 🙂 Just sayin!

  6. @Ed–Thanks for your thoughts. I am grateful for your passion for those who are hungry. I think you make a great point but I’m wonder if I understand what you’re looking for when you say that there doesn’t seem to be conversations happening.

    We’ve followed closely CharityWater’s use social media to get a lot of attention and raise money but I have serious questions about that model’s viability. We’ve had lively conversations here about the “tip jar” model of social media (https://www.oneicity.com/blog/twestival-follow-up/). One thing Oneicity stands for is that building relationships are the key to solving income solutions. That doesn’t mean only conversation. Nor does it mean only asking for money. It is a balance–in our view. You can’t ask too soon and you have to ask.

  7. @Judy–Thanks Judy. I agree that we need innovative ways of raising awareness, but I also believe that through relationships developed over time it is appropriate and not a disconnect to ask for money. One disconnect that I believe makes the “ask” so off-putting is that it is done too soon. That’s a killer.
    Wonderful perspective, Judy. We’re devoted to finding ways to have conversations that lead to relationships that lead naturally to fundraising.

  8. @Al, thanks for telling us about Ken. Ken has a great model and terrific influence.
    And I’m glad you’re fired up, I’ll get your brain working fulltime on ministry’s and nonprofts yet! Bring the horsepower!

  9. @Deborah–Thanks for your “rant” :). Your rants are better than most of my carefully crafted thoughts. Looking at the root causes of complex problems is not something that occurs in most public discourse. The popular vehicles for social media aren’t designed for deep discussion–a 140 character limit is tough! But I believe we can find ways to use all the social media tools to encourage conversations that lead to action.

    Keep driving us to the core. I am grateful for your input.

  10. @Kathy L–I know you’re on the frontlines so your thoughts mean a lot. We’ve done a bunch of the $XX.XX feeds X people strategies, still do. As we’ve been developing integrated strategies we’re thinking that there is a place for the clear calculated ask as well as a more thoughtful “solution to the problem” conversation.
    When I talk about this stuff I find myself drawing a spiral and talking about how integrated social media draws people into a discussion (not unlike this discussion or Twittervestival). As awareness grows, then maybe it is time for the $1.50 per meal ask. And then because the charity responds and connects with me. I give again. And then as they feed back to me how I am changing lives I begin to think about the “homeless” as people. And I then begin to wonder why… and how I could help with the root of the problem…
    Wish we could have the back of the napkin conversation, but in an integrated strategy, I’m not opposed to the simple ask, but I am not willing to leave it at that. I want to attract prospects, woo them with an understandable “ask” and then develop a relationship with them.
    Most of what I see out there is one or the other… all asking or all conversations.. not a lot of integration.



  11. I don’t know if “boring” is the word, or even “guilt”. It seems that “hopeless” is often what is communicated when the same appeal or appeal formula is used year after year. It is like saying, “we have no answers, but would you send us money, anyway?”

    I just had a meeting last night with about 30 of our key supporters. I asked them what motivates them to partner with us. To a person, they said, “transformed lives.” People are looking for answers to the problem of poverty, homelessness and hunger, and they want to be a part of the solution. We have a responsibility to educate, equip and mobilize our communities to bring real and lasting solutions to these problems.

    Real change, not spare change for the hopeless.


  12. @Jeff-Transformed lives and answers! Now that is something everyone can get behind. And boy do I like that line: Real change, not spare change for the hopeless. Way to go Jeff. For those who don’t know, Jeff is the Executive Director of Redwood Gospel Mission @ http://www.srmission.org/ They do great work.
    Thanks Jeff.

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