Sunday, March 30, 2008

An opinion: Oprah's Big Give

the cast of Oprah's Big Give. (photo credit:

Oprah's Big Give was something I was excited truly excited about. First off, I love her talk show, and I truly respect and admire what she has made for herself. She's funny and fabulous. She walks her talk. Essentially, she's great. But her Big Give show sucks!

Why does the Big Give suck? Its ridiculously unrealistic and it teaches people/reinforces bad philanthropy habits! I guess the point of the show is to get us to realize that we, i.e. anyone, can do something. We should all care and help. And we can!! But the way of doing it is just bad. Done right, this could be powerful...but it isn't and its annoying. So here are my big issues with it:

1. It teaches people to throw money (sometimes in the form of stuff) at a problem: Philanthropy is NOT about money ONLY. Philanthropy is about caring, and caring for a while. I think the show is set around people caring for a short period of time and rallying around a cause (maybe because the camera is there). What happens after they leave?? I don't know about this case, but I do know about several other cases where the short-term momentum has killed a good project or killed someone's coping abilities. For example, the problems were often long-term, but they focused on short-term solutions...which is what money is. How about coping and money management?? What about their lack of skills??? And that takes me to my next point.

2. It doesn't force people to think long-term: This was obvious from the very beginning. Let's take the guys who "won" the first episode. Two guys went and helped a family who had just lost their father in a tragic shooting incident. The mother was worried about her mortgage. So the guys called around and got a bunch of money. They then took the kids on a Target shopping spree. They emerged with carts of stuff, most of which I wondered if they really needed and about how long it would serve their needs. And more than anything else, I wondered if they had lost their house, where the heck were they going to put all that stuff?? This is a continuous problem in the show (and with most donors). You can't just throw money or stuff at a problem. You can only solve it with a little more well-rounded thinking and more holistic solutions.

3. I don't get their definition of "person in need": Ummm...i'm sorry, but some of the people on the show who have been defined as "victims in need" are better off than myself and many of the people I know or have known in my life. For example, the "plastic surgeon from South Central LA" who needed people to help pay off his medical school loans. I know many professionals (doctors, lawyers, engineers) who have come from adverse circumstances, paid off their loans, and done a lot of community service...a couple of them called me up and scoffed. A plastic surgeon?? come on!! If he cares so much, he'd work for two years, pay off his loans and then spend the rest of his life doing service. Or in the second episode where a restaurant owner who had three cars gets another free one just for hosting a fundraiser at his place. (we won't go into the gas consumption of those vehicles either that they gave is that helping a poor person get on their feet!!). I have more, but we'll leave that...and its been only two episodes!

Part of the problem is the judging itself as they set the tone. While the host and judges are nice people, I wonder how much they really understand the idea of need, philanthropy (granted they are involved in philanthropic efforts, but being involved can be at different levels!), or the particularly crucial need for sustainability in philanthropy.

My biggest pet peeve is the lack of long-term thinking in the philanthropic industry (and among donors). This is for various reasons which I will discuss later...particularly that they lack the understanding or economic incentive to do so. This NEEDS to change, and Oprah's Big Give is perpetuating a bad situation. Come on Oprah...your show needs a makeover!! (you can hire me and i'll help fix it).

Its sad that a show with so much potential is just not thinking big itself...

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