5 of the Most Inspiring TED Talks on Charity, Philanthropy, and Giving

5 of the Most Inspiring TED Talks on Charity, Philanthropy, and Giving


TEDlogoIf you want to stay up to date about trends in philanthropy and the philosophy behind giving, you have a number of different resources available to you, from charity blogs to podcasts. One of the oft-overlooked resources is the TED Talk. TED speakers come from all walks of life to deliver impassioned speeches on the things that matter most to them. A number of excellent TED Talks have broached the topic of giving to explore issues related to who gives and why, as well as the shifting culture of philanthropy in the United States. Some of the most meaningful TED Talks on this subject include the following:


  1. Dan Pallotta’s “The Way We Think about Charity Is Dead Wrong”

Among the most iconic TED Talks ever given on the topic of charity, Pallotta’s speech confronts the issue of charity overhead. Conventional wisdom holds that philanthropic organizations should operate as leanly as possible, which means that a majority of a charity’s donations should go directly to the people or cause supported by the organization. However, Pallotta says that this idea is wrong and contends that the tendency to force organizations to reduce overhead is actually hindering their ability to make an impact. He says that we should invest more in nonprofit organizations and their leadership so that they have the support they need to be innovative. Only by supporting the development of organizations will they grow in their ability to make a real, lasting impact through out-of-the-box ideas and initiatives.



  1. Katherine Fulton’s “You Are the Future of Philanthropy”

People looking for inspiration will find it in this talk, which challenges people to start thinking of themselves as active participants in philanthropy rather than passive observers. Historically, people have believed that only wealthy individuals can really make a difference, but the growth of micro-financing nonprofits like GiveIndia and Kiva challenge this narrative. In reality, everyone can make a big difference, and individuals hold more power than ever before. Fulton calls this evolution the “democratization of philanthropy.” She challenges us to get rid of a cynical mentality and start seeing how even a couple of dollars can create radical changes in someone else’s life. Through mass collaboration and crowdfunding, anything is possible.



  1. Nancy Frates’ “Meet the Mom Who Started the Ice Bucket Challenge”

When the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral on social media, it sparked a fundamental change in how people thought about giving. Never before had social media been leveraged so effectively to increase awareness and drive donations. All of this change traces back to Frates, whose son was diagnosed with ALS when he was 27. Though doctors told her there is no treatment for ALS, Frates refused to give up. Her primary goal was to get the attention of prominent donors such as Bill Gates. She conceived of the Ice Bucket Challenge as a way of getting the word out about ALS, and she ultimately ended up raising more than $160 million to advance research on the disease. Her story shows us that change can come as readily from innovation as it can from money.



  1. Joy Sun’s “Should You Donate Differently?”

In this TED Talk, GiveDirectly CEO Sun challenges that paternalism that can sometimes exist in charity. She delves into a number of different studies that revealed the spending habits of people receiving aid. While many people think that the less fortunate should not be given money directly, assuming that the money will be spent carelessly, the overwhelming evidence is that recipients use their donations to make a purchase that improves their lives. Pulling on this research, Sun suggests that we need to trust individuals in need to take care of themselves with the assistance they receive rather than deciding for them what they need in the form of material donations. What makes this speech so powerful is the larger implications it has for the field of philanthropy, especially when it comes to development work around the world. Many people have come forward to talk about the importance of partnering with individuals in these communities to create sustainable change, and Sun’s talk largely affirms this approach.



  1. Sasha Dichter’s “The Generosity Experiment”

Dichter shares what he discovered over the course of a month-long experiment in saying “yes” in this TED Talk. The experiment started when he turned down a man on the street asking for money and later regretted the decision. He decided that for a month, he would say “yes” to every request to see what would happen. In the end, Dichter learned that saying “no” comes from a place of distrust that is often undeserved.

In the United States, we tend to live on polar ends of a spectrum that ranges from giving money for change to investing money in hopes of earning a return. He challenges us to live somewhere in the middle, which means to stop always thinking about what is a smart and begin considering what is right. The pressure to act smart prevents us from giving money to someone on the street, even if that is the right thing to do. Dichter helps us to reframe how we give and think differently about who we help and why.



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