Donating a day's wages
By Janet I. Tu
The effort started, as these things do, with a great deal of idealism.
Pastor Eugene Cho, of Quest Church in Seattle's Interbay neighborhood, had traveled to developing countries, saw people living in poverty, read about the issues.
He wanted to do something. So he thought: Why not start his own global poverty initiative?
A couple of years later, that's resulted in his donating a year's salary — about $68,000. It's also meant that his family of five had to move out of their home for a few weeks to raise last-minute cash. And his family has pledged to donate $100,000 over the next five years.
Given the economic downturn, "honestly, there were a number of times I kicked myself for going public with my pledge," said Cho, 39. "It was tough."
Cho recently launched his nonprofit — One Day's Wages — with the donation of his year's wages.
The organization asks people to donate the equivalent of one day's wages. The money, Cho said, will then be sent to groups the nonprofit is partnering with, including one that works on providing clean water in Ethiopia and another trying to stop sex trafficking on the border between India and Nepal. Administration costs will be paid through separate fundraising efforts.
One Day's Wages will not do the actual on-the-ground work. Rather, it hopes to mobilize people by telling them about the work its partner groups are doing.
You can go to its Web site — www.onedayswages.org — to calculate what one day of your wages is.
"This is something I wish I'd thought of — the wage calculator," said Scott Harrison, founder of charity: water, one of the groups Cho's organization is partnering with. "It's sticky. It's something you want to talk about. Most people haven't even thought of how much they make every single day."
Cho said he started with a mix of idealism and realism — knowing it would take hard work to launch such an effort. Still, it surprised him how quickly support grew.
About a year ago, he started a Facebook group on the plan, saying he would donate $1 for every person who joined the group. Within a few months, 100,000 people joined; eventually, a million did. Cho says his family has pledged $100,000 over the next five years, and that he remains committed to raising $1 million in the longer term.
Cho and his wife, Minhee Cho, 40, a graduate student in family-and-marriage therapy at Seattle Pacific University, knew when they started that they wanted to make a personal sacrifice — "an acknowledgment that we're blessed," he said.
They set aside $50,000 from their savings.
Then came the hard part: coming up with the rest. Cho sold his "midlife crisis car" — a thunder-blue Mazda Miata. Their three children — Jubilee, 11, Trinity, 8, and Jedi, 6 — went to free or low-cost camps and school activities rather than participate in more expensive ballet lessons or sports teams. They put their second house — which they were renting out — up for sale, but in the plummeting housing market, it didn't sell.
The "moment it really sucked the most," Cho said, was when he realized they might not make their goal. In a last-minute effort to do so, he decided to sublet their furnished home to a couple visiting from overseas.
The family had only a few days to pack, living with friends for a few weeks, and then moving into their unfurnished rental house. "We didn't have anything in there," Jubilee recalls.
Cho acknowledges they've gotten questions about whether their donation is some kind of effort to look holier-than-thou. That's not the intent, he said.
Rather, in part, it's to show "we're not willing to ask people to do something we're not willing to do ourselves."