By Michelle Hiskey
Betty Londergan of Brookhaven could have written one check for $36,500 in 2010, taking only minutes to complete her philanthropy.
Instead she parsed out $100 a day at a time, spending hours telling the stories of the unique beneficiaries on her blog, http://whatgives365.wordpress.com/. They ranged from an orphanage in Uganda for children left parentless by AIDS, to an ecology teacher in a jungle in Ecuador. Domestically, she gave to causes ranging from AWARE, the all-volunteer auxiliary of the Alzheimer’s Association, to her favorite Starbucks barista who brightens her mornings.
The incremental giving made a big change in Londergan, 57, the wife of Oglethorpe University President Larry Schall. Donating the inheritance from her father gave her a deeper understanding of the world, its issues and her future in it.
Earlier this month, millions of CNN viewers watched her talking about her experience. Others read about her in Martha Stewart Whole Living or on the domestic maven’s TV show. By then, Londergan’s project had literally altered her vision.
“It completely compromised my eyesight,” she said, laughing. “I was at my computer screen 10 to 12 hours a day. I’d stop to run an errand and I’d see double.”
Londergan’s general perspective on making a difference changed.
“I really encourage people to not be bashful at all, but to communicate and get involved more directly to what they care about,” she said.
“We do live in an global village [and] it’s easy to connect directly to people working directly on that issue. You don’t have to just send a check. There’s so much access.”
Londergan’s year of giving made her yearn to see the faraway works she’s helped support. It drew a some criticism from the blogosphere and left a computer screen in a kaleidoscopic mess. She recently recalled all this and more.
Q. Did your project draw criticism?
I got a lot of criticism when I called Bristol Palin chubby. I was so outraged that she was a “Dancing with the Stars” finalist, but I didn’t know how that would possibly fit into my blog. I ended up [giving $100 to the anti-Bristol Palin, Jane Fonda’s Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention.
Q. Why didn’t you give one big check that could have made a greater impact for one charity or cause?
My intention was never to make a big walloping gift to someone. I wanted it to be something different –to expose people to hundreds of different ways of giving. $100 is big enough that it’s not an empty gesture but small enough so I’m not some huge benefactor, just a giver.
Q. So each smaller check was seed money for your telling a more complex story?
That’s why it was so much more work than I expected. I thought it was my responsibility to bring up the issues that are facing the world, as manifested in these endeavors. If you talk about [giving $100 to an organization dedicated to] clean water, you have to talk about how many people live without it, what are the diseases and outcomes, so people begin to grasp the complexities of the problem.
Q. Did you break down the recipients by cause?
About 60 percent were international, 40 percent American. The strongest themes were poverty, hunger, education, health care and environment. Also, many kinds of social entrepreneurs and small economic projects.
Q. Did you overcome any unusual obstacles?
It was stressful at times. I tried to post by noon or 2 p.m. at the latest. I had software on my computer that would back up my writing every few seconds. One day at 3:30 pm, I was anxious and frantic as I copied my document. Then it just disappeared. I smashed my computer with my Oprah magazine, and hit the screen so hard it shattered like a kaleidoscope. If I had hit it with Newsweek, that wouldn’t have happened, so thanks a lot, Oprah. Luckily, my computer guy was my knight in shining armor and came in and fixed it.
Q. How did this daily project affect your marriage?
My husband would be the first to tell you that I totally abandoned him. At the end of December, he said Betty’s next blog will be Larry365. I give him a lot of credit for being really nice and going through a lot of me being totally distracted.
I would like to do a TV series based on the blog. I want to take my top 25 [recipients], film them and bring them to a much, much bigger audience. We are such a visual society that to actually see these places and people would be so powerful.