Harvey McKinnon is the founder of Harvey McKinnon Associates, a consulting company specializing in fundraising and relationship building for the nonprofit community. Recognized as one of North America’s leading fundraising experts, he also is a speaker and co-author of the best-selling The Power of Giving: How Giving Back Enriches Us All.
SUCCESS: What led to your interest in giving back?
Harvey McKinnon: I realized early on that it made me feel good helping others; it’s probably my religious background. When I was a university student back in the ’70s, I met some people from South Africa, and at the time, I knew nothing about apartheid. Looking back, it’s what really catapulted me into doing what I do today. I was shocked by the system of racial discrimination in South Africa. So I decided to start an anti-apartheid group on campus, and because I was so passionate about it, I learned all of these skills that are incredibly useful to me today—marketing, design, public speaking, how to organize events and raising money. That eventually led me to working for an international development agency called Oxfam. I learned way more about fundraising and marketing, essentially devoting my career to nonprofits, to which I am most grateful. I am very lucky. When I was working at Oxfam, I was working pretty crazy hours because I loved what I was doing. Like Malcolm Gladwell says, you put in the 10,000 hours. I put in the 10,000 hours in three years, and as a result, it really enhanced my skills.
SUCCESS: You have said the power of giving also means donating one’s knowledge freely. Can you elaborate on that point?
HM: Well, Mark Victor Hansen came up with the concept of idea tithing, whereby people give 10 percent of their ideas to nonprofits. And I think that’s a great idea because there are tons of really smart business people and non-business people and they can contribute to making the world a better place. And when they volunteer for charities, I suspect for the most part that they will be thrilled to do it. They have a lot of skills, contacts and ideas to contribute to charities. I think that is incredibly important.
Every single one of us has benefited from the wisdom and knowledge of other people who have shared their knowledge freely with us. And it could be by going into a library and borrowing a book and it helps you start your own business, improve your profits or help your relationship. Or a book that helps you get your kids back on the straight and narrow. We all talk to our friends and support them when they need it. And for the most part, we don’t charge. Look at your close friends, people you have shared intimacies with over the years, those who have been supportive. They are sharing their knowledge. We all do that. Anything that builds emotional connections between people has a great benefit of ensuring knowledge. But it needs to be done without arrogance and with a kind spirit.
SUCCESS: You have said other countries that have far less than the United States and Canada often have people with more giving spirits. Why do you think that’s the case?
HM: I think it’s cultural. You grow up in a certain family that teaches you to share. And other kids are really unlikely to have giving spirits if they are not taught to share. I have been in Latin American and African countries where people have that sensibility of sharing that you don’t see in our country. Ultimately it comes down to the parents and the culture you grew up in. It helps if you don’t have media that is hammering messages of ‘you have to have everything and keep everything, and it’s a dog-eat-dog world and everyone has to take care of themselves and nobody else.’ I think people emotionally suffer from that even though they don’t know it. I have been in African communities where everyone does share. People who are generous are honored in other countries. There’s cultural feedback—if you demonstrate kindness and generosity, then you have a higher status in the community.
SUCCESS: It sounds like you would advise people to watch less TV.
HM: Absolutely. For the most part, television is a waste of time. If you look at Stephen Covey’s (one of my heroes) four quadrants and you look at how you spend your time, it’s either important, unimportant, urgent or non-urgent. And most TV falls into the not important, not urgent. And when we spend time doing things that are important but not urgent, those are the things that make an enormous difference in our lives and give a life meaning. And that could be exercise or yoga so your body can be healthier. It could be spending time with your loved ones. It could be working in your community as a volunteer. Whatever it is, it’s certainly more important than television.
SUCCESS: Why is approaching giving with the right attitude so important?
HM: If you go in with an ‘I know everything and I have all this power and I am going to bequeath it to other people,’ that is not a good sign that your gift—and it might be a generous gift—will be well received. You set up a power dynamic. As we all know, that doesn’t work really well for either party. It’s not kindness. Whereas, if you give with empathy, it’s not a power dynamic, it’s given out of solidarity. It’s just a shared view of we are human beings and we can support each other.
SUCCESS: What have you learned personally from giving back?
HM: I’d say the benefits to me personally have been incredible. I have fabulous friends all over the world as a result of the volunteer work I have done. I know myself better than I would have otherwise if I was just focused on making money. I feel like I have made contributions in many different areas, to writing books, to making documentaries to building a couple of businesses. I don’t regret anything I have spent my time on, and I feel very privileged to be able to do this. A lot of people who leave the corporate world to go work with nonprofits get a lot of joy in their lives.
SUCCESS: Why do you believe people shouldn’t put off giving to later in their lives?
HM: It is never too late to start giving, but when we start giving early in our lives, I think we can benefit. And that’s why I think it’s so important to teach children how to give because they will be happier and healthier human beings when they learn that.