Lisa Sonne traded her Hollywood life in the movie industry for a double-wide trailer in hills outside of Los Angeles. Why? She and her husband were looking to simplify their lives and they were also searching for something more. They found both passion and compassion when they launched the nonprofit Charity Checks. Here's more from Lisa:
How I Found Everyday Faith Through Giving
When I was in elementary school, I got my first byline with a front-page story for our local South Pasadena Journal. It was a story about my classmates and I gathering clothes and food to send to orphans in Vietnam, so I guess there was a propensity to want to share the positive experiences of giving early on. It helped to marry a creative, amazing man. Victor and I met and married in our early forties and we didn’t have the kids I once envisioned. Instead, we seemed to have been given the blessing and challenge of a brainchild: Charity Checks.
In the late nineties, Victor and I started noticing many people for whom giving was not the joy it could be. Some people were frustrated by how “giving” had intruded in their lives instead of letting them reach into themselves or out to the world. Their mail boxes were full of solicitations which frustrated some ¾ “Why are these nonprofits sending me stuff? I want them to be spending the time and money on their mission.” We also saw that some people were frustrated by feeling strong-armed at work to give to a single company cause or high overhead umbrella organizations that only help certain groups.
At the same time, we also began to be bothered by how much money was being spent on holiday gifts that would just become landfill; how much energy was spent getting gifts people didn’t need or want. Instead we thought, gifts could also do good and help charities. (This was even before there were general gift cards, now a multi-billion dollars commercial business.)
My husband asked a brilliant question which turned into a far reaching change, “ Are there universal charitable “giving certificates” that could work for any charity?” We thought there should be a way you could give to charities anonymously and still get tax benefits (even if you didn’t have a donor advised fund.) There should be a way of giving “the joy of giving” to others and letting them pick the cause instead of “a gift has been given in your name” to a cause already selected. There should be charity checks that, in essence, work like travelers checks.
We hoped there already was such a “giving certificate” ¾ there wasn’t. And after we created it, we joked that now we knew why nobody had done it before. It was hard to set up a new way of doing business so to speak. We had to figure out the back end to vet each check, get IRS clearance, a nonprofit set up… dozens of big and little details.
It seemed natural that Charity Checks also be used to create what we call “charitable literacy” programs in schools to teach students about philanthropy. “Financial literacy” was coming in vogue and often then included investing and saving but not donating. We wanted giving to be part of one’s literacy about money.
There was no program in the country that we could find that taught kids about giving a little money to help solve big problems through nonprofits. In one of the weaves of my life, I had produced and written educational materials for students, and run in-services. Since we began all this my husband got a teaching credential and switched careers, and now teaches. We love that since 2000, Charity Checks has become part of the curriculum in great private schools as well as wonderful inner city public schools. One of my favorites is the kids at Wonderland Elementary school who raised their own funds with a “Lemon Aid for Charity” stand. We have the photos on our website.
Charity Checks have become stocking stuffers for some families, training wheels for stewardship of wealth in some, an antidote to the commercialism of the holidays for all. We have one guy who for many years has given his two dozen nieces and nephews Charity Checks for the holidays ¾ they each get the same thing, but can individualize the gift by how they use it. We love it when families call us and tell us Charity Checks have started a new tradition of taking time to talk about what they can do with the talents and resources they have to make life better for others.
Perhaps the most exciting part about Charity Checks is that it creates a ripple effect like that of a drop of rain, a chain reaction of good we rarely see the end of and we hope never stops. It’s the apple with all those seeds and you don’t know which seeds will grow into more trees with more apples and the many seeds of those apples which could grow more trees.