Archive for Steven Ketchpel (author of "Giving Back")

Harbor House Ministries of Oakland

Harbor House Logo

As I consider the contributing factors that have led to my current situation, I’m grateful for many blessings: a loving family with parents who encouraged and supported me; good public schools that gave me a solid background, confidence, and guidance to prepare for higher education; job opportunities and family friends who provided introductions and recommendations; mentors, advisors, and friends willing to share their knowledge and experience; good health and a solid community of support; and the privileges associated with being a white male in America.

While I’d like to think my hard work and creative ideas have also been instrumental in the achievement of respect and financial comfort, I’m forced to admit that all of those earlier factors were prerequisites, and basically none of them was due to anything I can claim responsibility for, just the pure luck of what Warren Buffett calls “the genetic lottery.”

As I learn more about the circumstances of kids growing up in Oakland, I realize that they’re unlikely to have more than one or two of those prerequisites, and that many have none.  But I’ve also learned about a program that tries to provide broad coverage, supporting the kids through an after-school program that really works to fill those gaps.

Harbor House Ministries, in the low-income San Antonio neighborhood of Oakland, offers a high-quality after-school and summer program for kindergarten through eighth grade students. The fee is nominal compared to similar programs ($50 for 3 months), with scholarships for those who can’t afford even that. Although it is a Christian organization, no religious distinction is made in admissions, and current students come from Muslim, Buddhist, Protestant, Catholic, tribal, and agnostic backgrounds.

One of the most effective factors of the program is its reliance on high school and college youth from the community to be interns, giving them front-line responsibility for managing the younger children.  The result is a win-win situation where both the students and interns benefit, and the kids receive:

  1.  A caring surrogate family, starting as early as kindergarten and being continually present up to eighth grade, or up to age 25 for staff members, many of whom grew up in the program.
  2.  Educational support, especially for kids whose parents can’t help because they are not present, don’t speak English, or work too many hours.
  3.  Job opportunities for community youth.  Jobs are the best way to keep youth off the streets and out of trouble. The Harbor House staff experience their first time card, manager, review, and learn to work as a team with colleagues.  The money they earn at this internship, while a small amount, is significant because it is their own and is earned, not a handout.  Do you remember how proud you were of your first paycheck?
  4.  Role models for minority youth, as they see kids who look like them and are just a few years older given responsibility and living up to that responsibility.
  5.  A culture that combats racism – the families of different immigrant groups and races are working together to help their kids succeed, and the kids gain exposure to a diverse staff taking care of them and treating all with respect.
  6.  Assistance with the physical, emotional, and spiritual development of the kids, where they learn of God’s love for them, perhaps for the first time, and start to feel and believe it.

Providing such intensive support for these kids is not easy, but Harbor House (founded in 1971) has a long track record of doing it very well.  The program multiplies each dollar it receives into amazing impact for these hopeful, energetic, delightful kids.  A gift of $100 covers the monthly stipend of an intern who works incredibly hard, helping supervise 20 children doing academic and enrichment activities. In addition to the stipend, the intern also gets an initial job experience and opportunity to build leadership skills, receive mentoring, and spend their time in a more optimistic and future-focused environment than they experience on the streets.

Please consider making a gift to show these kids we haven’t forgotten about them.  We do care, and we want them to thrive.

You can donate online at or by sending a check to Harbor House, 1811 11th Ave., Oakland, CA 94606, Attn: Bronwyn Harris.  Let them know if your employer matches employee gifts.

If you’d like to learn more in person, there is a fund-raising event in Oakland with food, music, and a chance to meet some of the staff and interns on September 28th, 2014 from 4pm – 6pm.  Tickets at:

Responding to Ferguson, Michael Brown’s death

I’ve been following the news coverage about the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson fairly closely.  It continues a disturbing pattern of systemic inequality against minorities in America:

  •   police brutality, differential enforcement and sentencing
  •   economic injustice in hiring and advancement, as well as in access to credit
  •   disparity in the educational resources in communities of color
  •   environmental injustice in the siting of polluting industries

These big picture issues recurred in the more personal stories of racism and exclusion I’d heard from people of color in my own church community during conversations in response to a call for a Sacred Conversation on Race by our denomination (United Church of Christ) in the wake of the 2008 Presidential campaign.

As I wrestle with the question of how I can personally improve the situation, I think about three steps that I encourage others to consider as well:

  1. Raise my personal consciousness of the situation.  Pay attention to the news, read books like The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, and listen to the stories of people of other races.
  2. Cultivate friendships that cross not only race boundaries but economic ones as well.
  3. Speak out against injustice.  Quite frankly, this still scares me.  I find it easier to speak out by writing a check than I do by saying something in person or email.  So, if Citizens United establishes contributions as voice, then my voice will not be silent.  Here are organizations that I believe are prodding or supporting much-needed change:

I’m still in the early stages of this new awareness, and I have yet to take all of my own advice, but I’d welcome additional suggestions for organizations or other ideas you have on making a difference.

Lohri at the Sikh Gurdwara (San Jose)


The friends volunteer to help serve food on Lohri at Sikh Gurdwara


Although I’m interested in learning about other faith traditions, I have to admit that I knew next to nothing about Sikhism.  When Ruchi and Durga invited me to the Lohri celebration at the Sikh temple in San Jose on January 13th, saying it was in honor of their young son, I assumed it would be like a baptism–family and friends standing in solidarity with the parents, offering their prayers and promise of support for the child’s introduction into the faith and the secular world.  Maybe a reception or light meal, and gifts, possibly kicking off a college fund for the child.

I asked Durga and Ruchi more about it, and Durga sent me to the Wikipedia page for Lohri, where I learned that it is a new year celebration (related to the end of the month with the winter solstice) and celebrated with special note by households celebrating a recent marriage or birth.

I was also impressed to learn that caring for the community is a key tenet of Sikhism, practiced by serving  a free meal to all who come.  Since Lohri is an especially auspicious day, the San Jose temple  was expecting a large crowd, serving several thousand meals, perhaps up to 8,000.  So, to honor their son’s birth, my friends sponsored the meal that day.  They prepared some food in advance (Ruchi personally responsible for some 600 rotis, 30-50x the typical volunteer’s output) and were stationed on the serving line during the food distribution.  Their friends also helped out, and rather than asking for gifts for their son, guests were invited to bring rice, flour, sugar, or beans for the temple’s meals.

In addition to the generosity of providing meals, I was impressed by the willingness with which I was welcomed.  As I was casting about looking lost, people helped me find and tie a head covering, stow my shoes, and walk to the main meeting room, even showing how to pay respects to the holy book and leave my gift of rice at the altar.  Not understanding the language, I didn’t stay long for the reading/singing, and went up to the hall where the food was being served.  From time to time the steady music would break into the foreground of my attention, reminding me that the worship service was continuing.

On my way out, I noticed another surprising sign of openness.  The temple’s financial statements were posted on the bulletin board for all to see.  It appeared that this massive building and social program was run on an almost exclusively volunteer basis.  The salary line was a shockingly small percentage of the total.

I came away with a slightly greater understanding, and a general sense that while I was not expected to know much, I was welcome on my own terms.  I was impressed with the community, and sense of equality and service.   I admire my friends for choosing to celebrate in this way, and was glad to be a part of it.

My Kind of Store: Reach and Teach

Craig Wiesner, co-founder of Reach and Teach, stopped by my blog the other day to offer congratulations on finishing the book, and commenting that Giving Back was the sort of book that fit in well at their store. This was a nice symmetry, since Craig had offered encouragement on the project just as I was starting to get serious about it, when I met him at a party in March 2011.

I interpreted Craig’s comment as an invitation to drop by the store, and I’m glad I did!  I’d been meaning to go before–they make their space available for community events, and some Collaborate For Africa (C4A) meetings have happened there, though somehow, I’d missed going.

While they were flipping through Giving Back, I was looking around at all the great stuff.  I’m mostly drawn to books, so flipped through (and bought) one on community organizing: Beautiful Trouble a how-to, with page-long descriptions of key principles and examples of implementing them.  Turning your old Palm Pilot into one of those “Hairy Dan” palettes with a magnetic stylus that lets you deposit iron filings was one of “62 Projects to Make with a Dead Computer”.  They also had a great selection of kids’ books, and toys and games.  I bought a couple of those, too, though don’t want to spoil the surprise of potential recipients by listing them here…  I decided I would leave a couple of things to purchase with my royalties from their sales, plus I had to rush off for dinner, but it was one of my favorite store visits in years!

Stanford Grads Lead Building of Hospital in India

(Excerpt from Giving Back)

Stanford Grads Lead Building of Hospital in India

Five twenty-something Stanford alumni, united by their student volunteering experience in India over the course of a decade, hatched a plan to help meet one of the key needs for the Indian state of Jharkhand: local medical care. Nearly one hundred thousand villagers have to travel three hours or more to get to the hospital at the state capital. Building a local health center would provide timely care that could save lives and double as a community center for health-education programs. Despite their busy professional lives and living spread out across the United States, the cofounders of Hospital for Hope  kept at their dream. They started off by raising more than $100,000 for the construction costs through their online efforts, happy hours, and gala events, learning to partner with other nonprofits to pull together the large events. They worked with One World Children’s Fund (their fiscal agent), Construction for Change (to do the building), and Jagriti Vihara (JV), the local nongovernmental organization that will work with other community partners to run the hospital.

With the initial money raised and construction underway, the Hospital for Hope team has entered a new phase, planning for the staffing, operations, and ensuring the sustainability of the hospital. Now taking the role of consultants to JV, they’ve researched the best models for hospitals in developing areas, along with pitfalls to avoid. The project has provided valuable real-world experience in all the skills required to carry out a complex project: visioning and planning, implementation, partnering, and management. These skills have transferred to their day jobs, but the most valuable part of their volunteer experience was the inspiration of working with people so committed to helping others. As cofounder Golda Philip says,

We were searching for what we wanted to do, a sense of purpose and vocation. JV gave us a model. . . . It provided inspiration for all of us at an early, critical stage of development as professionals and global citizens responsible to the people around us.

Busy day: finalizing text, domain and first event!


Finalizing the Text


Due to some tight deadlines, in order to have copies for the event tonight, I had to approve the printing “sight unseen” (well, I’d reviewed many drafts and the “digital proof” that CreateSpace provides).  When the copies arrived Wednesday, I sat down and read it cover-to-cover, and found a few niggling changes that I wanted to make before I called the first edition “done”.  So, combining a late night Wednesday night, with timely help from Thess on layout and Nancy on editing, and the final text is now awaiting approval from CreateSpace.  It should be ready by Saturday afternoon.  In the meantime, you won’t be able to order the old version, so there are at most 30 “upside-down airplane” copies out there that will be exceedingly valuable some day…  🙂   (The changes are quite minor, really.)


Progress on the Domain Hosting


This was an unbelievably large headache.  I was trying to transfer the domain from the company where I registered it to the company that I wanted to have host it.  What they advertise as an “up to 5 day” process took me 35.  I gather both companies made some mistakes along the way, but one crazy story was that since I had registered the domain for 10 years, and a transfer included a one year extension in registration, and no domain can be registered for more than 10 years, I had to wait a year before I could transfer it.  Anyway, it’s now in the hands of the right company, and I’ll be able to at least put the rudimentary stuff that I promised in the book up on the site between now and the weekend, with upgrades coming after that.


Hospital for Hope Fund Raiser

A group of Stanford students has done some serious fund raising to build a hospital in rural India.  The NGO that is their operational partner there, Jagriti Vihara, was founded by Shri Upadhyay (“Daduji”) in 1975.  I had been introduced to Hospital for Hope through One World Children’s Fund, and included their story in Giving Back (I’ll include the excerpt as a separate blog post).  The awesome cover photo was taken by Jason Koenig of during his trip to the Hospital for Hope site.  So, there were a couple of good ties that resulted in my opportunity to have the books available at the event.

Amit Garg helped get things set up, distributing copies of the book and marketing postcard around the room.  They had a nice spread of food (though I think the caterers were caught off guard with the large percentage of vegetarians in the audience), a performance by an a capella group, a short video, and then speeches by Daduji and Amit.  I”d offered to donate proceeds of book sales for the evening to Hospital for Hope, so they elected to charge a slight premium and request $20 donations for the books.  Of course, a couple of memorable “First’s”:  First Sale, First Multi-copy purchase (5!), First Signed Copies.   

The picture is of me and Daduji.  I really enjoyed the chance to meet him and learn a bit more about his project and life.

Thank you, Hospital for Hope team, for hosting me tonight, and for all that you do to bring greater health to the world.


Books on their way!


In spite of my concerns about submission guidelines, CreateSpace approved the printing of Giving Back, and the first copies are now on their way to me in the mail, and should be here in time for the Hospital for Hope fund raiser!

It’ll be a few days before the purchase link is available on Amazon, but if you are interested in buying a copy, I’d encourage you to wait until August 30th at noon (PST).  I’ll try to organize a sales blitz then, with the hope that I’ll make it into the “best seller” for my category during that hour.

Book pending approval for printing!

Cover of "Giving Back"

Woo-hoo!  After some last minute fiddling with my ISBN, I submitted Giving Back to CreateSpace  this afternoon.  CreateSpace is Amazon’s subsidiary for self-published, print-on-demand works.  Over the next 48 hours, they will review it, and almost certainly, reject it.  I submitted the files knowing that I violated their submission requirements.  Certain elements of the design of the book intentionally stray into the margins, but are still within the print area of the page.  It’s called (as I learned from the designer) “hanging punctuation” and, unfortunately, it’s not supported by CreateSpace’s automated review process.  So I expect to get a rejection, which I will appeal, and the people should nod in sagacity, approving the elegance of Dave’s design.

Unfortunately, we’re cutting the time very tight, and it probably means that I won’t have books for the Hospital for Hope fundraiser at Stanford on 8/16.

Still, this is a great milestone to celebrate, and I especially want to thank my fabulous editor Nancy Carleton, my layout person extraordinaire Thess Bautista, and  design consultant Dave Blake with his artistry and encyclopedic knowledge of fonts.

As you can see from the picture, I went with the blue.  The votes were very evenly divided, but with the designer, editor, and photographer all favoring blue, they carried extra weight.  I over-ruled the popular vote and went with the longer sub-title primarily to have keywords “volunteering” and “donating” in the title for people that might be searching on those terms.


Struggle for Control of Grameen Bank

Bottom Line:  The Grameen Bank, one of the landmark institutions for assisting the poor of Bangladesh, and receiving a Nobel for its role in establishing microcredit, has become a political football.  The Bangladeshi government is making moves to oust its current leadership and install government-controlled leaders.  At the very least, this is intended to cause a black eye for Grameen founder Dr. Muhammad Yunus.  But I fear the damage to the women who are the current owners and borrowers of the bank will be far worse.  International pressure may cause the Bangladeshi government to back off, so please consider adding your name to a petition to protect the bank.

For those of you who weren’t followers of my old blog (from the Reuters Digital Vision Fellowship), the Grameen organization with its flagship Grameen Bank, isn’t just the Nobel-winning creator of the microfinance movement.  It’s also a group of people that I admire, some of whom I got to know personally and collaborate with on the Mifos Project.  That includes a couple of meetings with Grameen Bank creator and Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.

The Grameen Story

As an economics professor making a visit to a village in his homeland of Bangladesh in 1974, Dr. Yunus saw villagers suffering from obscenely high interest rates for loans for their necessary raw materials.   By making a “micro-loan” (a number of loans totaling $27), he was able to start them on a path to creating a livelihood that provided better food, housing, health, and education for their children.  In 1983, the Grameen Bank was founded to provide microloans to more people.  Repayment rates were very high (97%+) aided by the fact that loans were extended  to groups of 5 women who were effectively co-signing  for each other’s loans.  The effectiveness of microcredit was widely praised and duplicated, and today the Grameen Bank has nearly 9 million members (97% women), 20,000 staff members, and a weekly turn-over of $1.5M.  A host of other businesses were started under the Grameen umbrella, and Alex Counts, who, as a Fullbright Scholar, was a protege of Yunus, started the Grameen Foundation USA.  In 2006, Yunus and the Grameen Bank shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the impact of microcredit in alleviating poverty.  The Grameen Bank is structured as a cooperative, with the borrowers being the shareholders, owning 97% of the bank, and the government owning the remaining 3%.  The shareholders elect the directors, and for many years, Dr. Yunus served as the Managing Director of the bank.

Trouble Brewing

In early 2007, Yunus briefly entered the political fray in Bangladesh, creating a political party that he shut down a few months later.  Still, that was enough to rattle political opponents, and he was the target of a slander suit, a smear campaign based upon a discredited story of misuse of Norwegian aid funds, and finally a retraction of the exemption that he had been granted of the retirement age of 60.  (Dr. Yunus is now 72.)  Although he has tried to make plans for an orderly succession, the government is making a power grab and wants to appoint its own people to run the bank.  Jealousy over Yunus’ Nobel has been cited as another contributing factor.


All 17 women Senators of the US Senate signed a letter requesting that the other directors of the bank board be permitted to choose the next Managing Director.


A YouTube video features some borrowers telling their stories, followed by the directors make the case themselves.  (The subtitles don’t translate the amounts.  85,000 taka is about $1,000 and 1.5 million taka is about $18,000.  The amount that the women couldn’t borrow was 2,000 taka = $25.)   The video was eye-opening for me in another way.  I saw the title “Voices of the Grameen Bank Board Members” and I realized at the end of the video I was confused….  Where were the men in suits?  Yep, I was done in by my US prejudices.  The women in saris *are* the directors.  (See the full board listed on their site.)

The Grameen Foundation has also put out a call to action, a blog post from their communications director provides more context and there’s a Fact Sheet as well.

How you can help

Consider signing the two petitions at:

The Grameen Foundation, to be sent to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton , and (created by the Microcredit Summit), to be sent to Bangladeshi Prime Minister H.E. Sheikh Hasina

Thank you.

3 Ways to Think About Legacy Giving

Bottom Line:  If you have kids under age 18, and you don’t have a will which establishes your chosen guardian for them, you should fix that right away.  Beyond that, your bequests say a lot about your values.  I found it liberating to think about the good that organizations could do with my assets when I no longer needed them.

I met a friend for lunch today….

and one of the topics that came up was estate planning.  I went through the process myself a year or so ago, and have been helping out my parents with theirs.  My lunch guest has two young children, so there’s an extra importance that she and her husband take the time to think about it and specify guardians for their kids.

I also recommended the book by Liza Hanks:  A Mom’s Guide to Wills and Estate Planning, published by Nolo Press.  Liza did my estate plan, and I thought she was fabulous:  knowledgeable, friendly, competent.  She helped guide me through the process of thinking about how I wanted to divide my estate and establishing the legal documents and entities to make it happen.   She writes the Estate Planning Blog at

In addition to the legal aspects of it, there’s the consideration of how such bequests are a part of your giving plan, the way you financially support organizations and causes you care about.  In fact, I’ve included a section about that in my upcoming book, Giving Back.

Excerpt from Giving Back

Estate planning, legacy giving, or planned gifts are all more pleasant-sounding ways to talk about a topic that makes people uncomfortable: death, and what happens to your money after you die. Avoiding the topic doesn’t make it go away. If you don’t get around to putting your affairs in order in time, it makes the probate process more confusing and expensive for everyone (else) involved. Your first concern is establishing a guardian for your minor children, if needed. Drafting a will (and keeping it up-to-date) will ensure that, in the event of your death, the people you choose will have the legal authority to care for your minor children. Your will also determines how your assets are distributed after your death. Many people choose to devote some of their estate to the charitable causes they supported during their lifetimes.

The very word legacy calls to mind long-term, almost larger-than-life expectations. What’s your legacy? What enduring mark did you leave during your life on this planet? How will future generations remember you and your actions? Clearly, your descendants are the living part of your legacy. Their very existence is determined by the path you took through your life. Your professional achievements may be memorialized, especially creative endeavors such as a musical recording, a patent, a book, or a collection of photos. Perhaps you made a physical mark on your environment by constructing a new home or planting a garden or grove of trees. Another part of your legacy is the way you treated other people, their recollections of your relationship, and the efforts you made to improve their lives. That is, giving back can be an important part of your legacy.

Your will represents your final opportunity to influence the world. Rather than let the state decide what you would have wanted (if you die without a will), take the time to consider the legacy you’d like to leave, and work with a lawyer (if needed) to write it into a precise, legally binding document, a plan for the future beyond your lifetime. Providing for your family is probably the foremost consideration on your mind, and appropriately so. However, creating the full vision of your legacy may mean incorporating others, such as those organizations you feel are transforming the world into the fuller expression of what you envision for it. During your lifetime, you supported those organizations with your volunteer time and donations. After death, you can still provide financial support from a portion of the assets you accumulated over a lifetime.

There are three different approaches to thinking about a legacy gift.

  1. As a memorial gift
  2. As income replacement
  3. As a bold, strategic gift

The first approach, memorial giving, is simply to include the organization in your will. A token amount shows the organization was an important part in your life, an association you want to acknowledge even on the solemn occasion of your death. Perhaps you include favored organizations as a suggested recipient of memorial gifts.

A second approach to legacy giving is to think about income replacement for the organization. If you’ve been a significant donor over a period of years, will the absence of your gift cause them hardship? If you fear the answer might be yes, and you have the means to do so, you can establish an endowment-style gift that generates enough income on an annual basis to match what you gave each year during your life. The typical endowment payout policy is about 5 percent of its value (which assumes investment returns are slightly above that, to maintain the real, inflation-adjusted value of the principal). So you’d need to start with an amount that is twenty times what you’d like to give on an annual basis. For example, if you make a $1,000 gift each year to a local organization that teaches urban gardening, and wanted to sustain that gift “in perpetuity” after your death, making a $20,000 bequest would likely enable them to draw $1,000 worth of interest each year without running out of money. Of course, not every organization has the structure in place or the discipline to maintain that type of long-range planning. If you’re worried your wishes for an endowment-style gift will be beyond their capabilities, you may be able to find a community foundation that has more of the financial experience and structure in place to administer the gift over the long term. Donor-advised funds may also provide the service, though that may require a $100,000 or larger initial grant.

The third approach to legacy giving is to consider a bold, strategic gift. At the time the organization receives your bequest, you won’t need the money anymore. So, free from personal attachment, what would a larger gift enable the organization to do? Hire more staff? Start a new program? Remodel their facility to make it more suitable for the people they’re helping? Of course, it’s hard to project today what the organization’s priorities will be years from now when they receive the gift, but it’s still a useful thought exercise to consider the potential impact of different gifts. Don’t limit yourself to a single organization, but think about which one(s) would make the best use of your gift, or be most transformed by it.

As a final thought experiment, ask yourself the question “Why wait?” Being able to see your gift make a significant difference to a favorite organization is a powerful validation of your success. There are certainly reasons to save the assets you need for your family’s long-term well-being, but if there’s an opportunity that captures your imagination, think about whether it would be feasible to do both. Discuss it with your family to see if they share your enthusiasm. Sometimes a bold vision will radically change your priorities, as it did for the Salwen family, who tell their story of downsizing and giving half the proceeds of their house sale to the Hunger Project in The Power of Half (Salwen & Salwen, 2010).