You Can Make a Difference—And Your Friends Want to Help


You have the power to make a difference in the world. And your friends are just waiting for you to ask for their help.

That lesson was driven home for me a few years ago when I accepted a challenge thrown down at a conference. The challenge was to multiply some money to help others within three weeks. I was intimidated at first, but in the end I discovered meeting the challenge was a lot easier than I thought, and I was amazed by how eager my friends wanted to partner with me.

A Daunting Challenge?

The challenge came at a Donald Miller Storyline Conference in Portland, OR., as part of a point about “living a better story”. Audience members were given the opportunity to take envelopes that contained either $5, $10, or $20 bills. The catch was that we had to commit to doing something that would help another person or organization, ideally in a way that multiplied the money.

My envelope had $20 in it. The challenge felt daunting. How would I multiply the money? In such a short period of time, up against an already busy schedule? What if I failed?

As I left the auditorium clutching my envelope, it crossed my mind I could turn around and give it back. Yet beneath the doubt was a sense of excitement. What if I succeeded? What good things could come from a $20 bill?

Let the Multiplying Begin

After a few days of consideration, I decided to help at risk youth in the Silicon Valley and immediately thought of the Bill Wilson Center,  an organization with an excellent track record. Looking at my calendar, I knew I needed to do something simple. I thought, everyone needs to eat, why not use the $20 for a simple soup and salad supper for my friends? I’d ask everyone to bring a donation for the center.

I sent out invitations for a dinner just two weeks away, detailing to my friends what I was raising money for. I gave them the option of sending in a donation if they were unable to attend. With such short notice, only about 10 made it to the dinner; another 10 sent in donations.

One of my invitees was a friend who volunteers for Bill Wilson, and I asked her to share with the guests why she believes in the organization and its mission. Her sharing led to an amazing discussion among the women, with ideas sparking back and forth across the table. Many said they felt inspired to take on a challenge for a cause they felt passionate about.

At the end of the night, the $20 that I so worried I would never be able to multiply in only three weeks had grown to $1,000!

‘How Can I Help?’

I recently watched this play out again at the church I belong to, Sunnyvale Presbyterian. We did a similar challenge giving participants four weeks to either give away or multiply the money to benefit individuals or organizations; we specified it not come back to the church.

At the end of the month, we invited everyone to a luncheon to share stories of what happened. Over and over again people stood up and shared how, with just a few dollars, they were able to make a significant impact. One group pooled their money, invited friends to an open house, and raised more than $3,000 for transitory housing for recently arrived refugees. A young girl baked cookies and sold them at her school, raising $150 for breast cancer research. Others organized collections of socks for soldiers, food for the hungry, or books for disadvantaged children.

One thing that stood out was how many of the stories went something like, “When I told my friends what I was doing, they instantly said, ‘How can I help?'” Friends were jumping at the chance to get involved.

Some Reasons Why Friends Want to Help

Here are a few reasons why our friends are so eager to help:

  • They want to do good, but aren’t always sure how to do it. When a relatively easy way appears, people are more likely to say “yes.”
  • It’s exciting to join in on something new and slightly adventurous. A new, creative, and challenging project to make a difference in the world will get others’ attention beyond the usual magazine subscription drives, cookie sales, and letters from neighbors asking for a few dollars for a national charity.
  • Passion ignites passion. Our passion for a cause will ignite excitement and passion in our friends.
  • A cause that rings true will strike a chord in others. We are attracted to authenticity. When our motivation to make a difference comes from a sincere place within us, it will resonate with others around us.
  • Our Friends Like Us. Our friends like us and want to see us be successful in our endeavors.
  • Our friends trust us. If a friend is committed to a particular cause, we tend to trust that the cause is a worthy one.

Create Your Own Challenge

Sorry, I don’t have any envelopes containing random bills to pass out. But I do want to issue a similar challenge to make a difference starting with just a few bucks. If a tangible object like a bill helps, reach into your wallet right now without looking and pull out the first bill you touch, or make a plan to set aside a bill later.

Meeting the challenge:

  1. Spend a few days thinking about what cause or project resonates the strongest for you. If you subscribe to a spiritual practice like prayer, try praying about it and see what answer comes to mind.
  2. Once you have a cause and at least a semi-formed plan of how you will help, start talking it up with your friends. They may even be able to help you crystalize the plan with their own suggestions.
  3. Set a deadline for the project, no more than a month out. If you give yourself too much time, it increases the chance you’ll procrastinate on approaching friends, followed by losing steam, and then giving up.
  4. When you reach the end of the challenge, report back to, and thank, your friends. Celebrate! Take stock of what you were able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. Consider how you can take what you learned from this short challenge to improve on the next time, or to plan an even bigger project for the (near) future.

If you do accept this challenge, share what you are doing with us!






  1. Susan B. says:

    This is way cool. Thanks, Pam, for writing about it. That $3000 actually reached to $3685 and the San Jose Presbytery matched it, so it actually turned into $7370. All from a base of $50. Is that way cool or what?

  2. Pam Marino says:

    That is way cool, Susan!! Very good news. Thanks for letting us know.