Shaun King is no stranger to suffering. He was involved in a devastating car accident in 2003; he calls his survival a miracle. Now he tries to bring them to the lives of others. As the Christian pastor of Courageous Church in Atlanta, Georgia, he raised $540,000 to rebuild Haiti’s only refuge for children with developmental disabilities by auctioning off tweets and follows by celebrities like Eva Longoria and Snoop Dogg. In March 2012, he launched Hope Mob where strangers vote on which lives to help. Lives, he says, "that would otherwise fall through the philanthropic cracks of society. "Let’s help a single mom get a reliable car! Let’s help 9-year-old Maari fight cancer! Right now he’s publicly plotting to flashmob 10 needy families in 10 cities for Christmas, expertly whipping his massive online following into a frenzy of anticipation.
Do you think people were less generous before things like social medial platforms and PayPal made it so easy for them? Does social media and impulse generosity make us more generous?
Yes, actually. The ease of generosity through social media and online giving has proven itself to help the growth of generosity itself. People that previously had no idea of the difference they could make in the world have been emboldened by social media and are now aware of issues and needs and ways that they can provide solutions to them that just didn’t exist decades ago.
You have said that Hope Mob is a place for stories of need that aren’t being told anywhere else, even on social media. What happens when you identify these singular, untold stories, rather than pushing mass resources to global issues (like the earthquake in Haiti). How is that generosity different?
It’s very different actually. With the way we do generosity through HopeMob, we ensure that real people on the ground get the resources and care they need and the donor knows exactly what their charity dollars are doing. People are tired of sending their money to charities during disasters and having no idea what that money will do and who it will help. At the very least, we think that more and more donors are going to demand clarity on what their charitable dollars are doing, and HopeMob gives donors that real clarity.
Why is giving time different than giving money?
Both are crucial. At all times we should each be willing to give one or the other or both to people in need. The truth is, though, that sometimes a cause needs boots on the ground more than it does money and other times a cause needs money to pour in more than anything else. Truly charitable people figure out a way to give both and smart charities figure out ways to ask for both.
What advice would you give a person with a passion for systemic change?
People think and argue and debate about systemic change way too much and fight for it way too little. If all of the people that wanted a systemic change fought for it, it would happen way more often. Sometimes, it just takes being the person that takes the first step.
Was there a moment that you realized your life would be dedicated to giving back, to giving more than you received? What was that moment?
In 1995, I was the victim of a brutal hate crime. I had three surgeries and missed two years of high school recovering from my injuries. During my recovery, a kind man—a local pastor—came and visited me and his kindness had a profound impact on the trajectory of my life. I found myself wanting to be like this man who dedicated his life to helping others at that moment.
What does it mean to be generous?
Generosity is giving until it makes you uncomfortable.
Tell us the names and stories of three individuals who inspire you most with their generosity.
My wife, Rai King, is an extremely generous person. She is literally the type of woman who will give you her shoes or her purse or anything she has if you tell her you like it. I give her a ton of love for her generosity because it’s very pure of heart. I’m known for being generous, but Rai, and thousands of generous souls like her do what they do in secret and I think that is even better. Ultimately, her private generosity keeps me inspired and confident to always be my best with all of the charitable work I do.
Neil Hutchinson is an amazing young entrepreneur based out of the U.K. and leads a successful tech company called Forward. Neil, rather out of the blue, contacted me to let me know he was interested in us working together and that he loved HopeMob. From his foundation, the Forward Foundation, they wrote a check to cover HopeMob’s operating expenses for a year. I was shocked, but it also deeply impacted me in a personal way. Not only did his gift keep HopeMob alive to help thousands of more people, it inspired me to want to be able to do the same thing for causes I believe in someday.
A good friend of mine, Napoleon Meadors recently died suddenly after having an unexpected seizure. He was just 33 and was an athletic, seemingly healthy husband and father of three sons. I was his pastor for years and his classmate at Morehouse College. I just delivered his eulogy and this may sound weird, but it was actually one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. Yes, it was hard seeing his wife, his parents, and his three sons, but this guy lived such a warm, loving, passionate, and giving life that it made it easy for me to stand up there and speak about him. He was an amazing dessert chef, but could never really make any money off his business because he just loved giving his food away!