For three decades, Harvey McKinnon has been one of Canada’s premier charitable fundraisers. The Vancouver author, documentary filmmaker, and motivational speaker has helped generate hundreds of millions of dollars for many nonprofit groups ranging from Amnesty International to the Marmot Recovery Foundation to UNICEF.
One would expect that McKinnon would be familiar with all aspects of philanthropy. But after he and a friend, Vancouver business consultant and long-time volunteer Azim Jamal, decided to cowrite a book on the subject, he was surprised to learn of new ways of giving back to the community.
“I have always been interested in why people give and how they give,” McKinnon told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “I decided to do a lot of research about five years ago, and realized to some extent that my definition of giving was fairly narrow. I was just thinking of time and money.”
The new edition of their book, The Power of Giving: How Giving Back Enriches Us All (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, $25), cites research showing that people who give often enjoy better health. McKinnon said that this is because giving helps build relationships, which can lead to fewer medical problems.
The book mentions a Michigan study that showed regular volunteer work increases life expectancy, enhances the immune system, lowers cholesterol levels, strengthens the heart, decreases the incidence of chest pain, and reduces stress. McKinnon and Jamal also write about a Florida study showing that people with AIDS who volunteered to help others lived longer than other AIDS patients who didn’t volunteer.
In addition, a U.K. study reported that 50 percent of volunteers felt healthier as a result of doing this work. One in five stated that they also lost weight while doing volunteer work.
“We’ve written a diet book,” McKinnon quipped. On a more serious note, he added that people with a greater number of interpersonal connections also have an easier time finding romantic partners and meaningful jobs—another byproduct of volunteering.
The Power of Giving highlights such concepts as escalator giving, intrapersonal tithing, and idea tithing. McKinnon told the Straight that before researching the book, he had never heard of the first two of these.
Escalator giving involves increasing the percentage of your generosity over time. Some religions urge adherents to contribute 10 percent of their income through tithing. But, as McKinnon and Jamal point out in their book, most North Americans only give between one and two percent of their incomes to nonprofit and religious groups. So moving from one percent to 10 percent is challenging for many people. One solution, the authors suggest, is to increase charitable donations gradually. A person who gave two percent of their gross income last year can try to reach three percent this year.
Intrapersonal tithing is a way of giving to yourself, which puts you in a better position to give more to others. For instance, if you have approximately 2,000 hours of free time a year after working, preparing and eating meals, commuting, and doing other tasks, you might consider taking a certain percentage—perhaps 10 percent—to enhance your personal growth. This could involve reading fiction and nonfiction books for inspiration; spending time in nature; doing yoga; meditating or praying; entering therapy to deal with personal issues; and walking.
“When you enhance your knowledge, learn new ideas, and gain new skills, you have much more to offer others,” McKinnon and Jamal write.
Idea tithing means donating 10 percent of your ideas, intellectual efforts, or creative concepts to the benefit of others.
McKinnon said he caught the philanthropy bug while attending Dalhousie University. He was invited to an event featuring South Africans who had been living under apartheid. He formed an anti-apartheid group, which spurred him to get involved with Oxfam. “By doing that, I learned so many skills,” he said. “I met friends who I’ve known for 30 years, who will be lifelong friends as a result of sharing the passion for that work. I learned a lot about racism. I made international global connections. I went on to make documentary films because I was so passionate about that.”
He helped raise $5 million for famine relief in Ethiopia in 1984.
McKinnon said he and Jamal recently decided to donate all of the authors’ profits to charities. Anyone who buys the book can vote for which sector should receive the money. Just go to www.thepowerofgiving.org/.