May - June 2011 | Back to Archives

7 Questions With Scott Oki

BY PAULA FELPS

Click here for more of our interview with Scott Oki.

When Scott Oki left his executive position with Microsoft in 1992, he turned his attention to two of his primary passions: golf and philanthropy. His nonprofit Oki Foundation applies his business experience to the world of charitable giving, while Oki Golf consists of nine properties comprising 11 championship golf courses. Although he's involved in several charitable causes, his latest endeavor, SeeYourImpact.org, is based upon the principles of micro-lending and opens the door for individuals to become engaged in philanthropy at lower donation amounts.

 Technology is playing a big role in philanthropy today. How are donors using that to enhance their efforts?
When you look at something like the Haitian relief efforts, where about $40 million was raised in 13 days through a $10-per-text donation, that's pretty amazing. It's an entire generational change. The opportunities of social media will impact the way hundreds of millions of donors will think about giving back.

Is it changing our approach to - and awareness of - philanthropy?
There's no question that technology is playing an enormous role in making people aware about what's happening around our planet. The information is instantaneous, and there's an outpouring of people around the world who want to improve the situation.

How can we use that to improve the philanthropic experience?
It allows [donors] to personalize what's happening and gives us the emotional connection to what is happening in countries around our planet. We may not physically be there, but we can share that experience. The more we reach the hearts - and not just the minds - of donors, the better off everyone is.

How can organizations spread the word about philanthropy and get others involved?
One of the things we do at SeeYourImpact.org is let you share your experience of giving on Facebook or Twitter or any social networking vehicle. It's that viral nature that we are trying to create that will hopefully drive the growth of our organization as well as others.

You mentioned social media. How will social networking play a big role in the future of philanthropy?
There are direct ties to the viral nature of using the social networking tools at our disposal. You look at the influence of celebrities like Lady Gaga or Ashton Kutcher - we're talking about 5 or 6 million Twitter followers. The potential of [building awareness by] getting someone like that to come to SeeYourImpact.org or some other site is enormous.

How can noncelebrities have that same effect?
We all have our own sphere of connections with other people. Being able to share [your philanthropic] experience with your friends is just enormous. If [my wife] Laurie and I write a million-dollar check, we don't tell many people. But if we donate $10 or $20, we're willing to tell that to the world. That's the beauty of this kind of philanthropic model - while none of us would ever boast about making a large donation, we're more than willing to talk about impacting a life for a few dollars. That is a great way to spread awareness to everyone on our friends list.

How can donors make sure their money is being used as intended?
That's one of the "gotchas" of the current philanthropic model. Transparency of information hasn't been what it should be, and you really don't know how the money is being spent once you write that check. One of the beauties of SeeYourImpact.org is that the 501(c)(3)'s that we partner with are all vetted beforehand. We meet with them, ask a lot of questions. We know what they're doing and where the money goes. That is important from a donor perspective, because they know that 100 percent of their donation goes to the nonprofit.




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