It’s Time For a Nonprofit Reality TV Show

by Joan Garry

I’d love a nonprofit version of The Office with the absurdity of high-maintenance donors, board meetings where conversation goes in circles, and all the…

Earlier this year, my friend Vu Le suggested on his hilarious (yet pointed) blog Nonprofit With Balls that we need a nonprofit-themed reality TV show.

He suggested titles like:

  • Dancing with Program Officers
  • Hell’s Charity
  • So You Think You Can Run a Nonprofit
  • America’s Funniest Fundraising Videos

I think Vu was serious. And I had some ideas of my own…

Maybe a drama such as CSI — an organization like the ACLU takes on a new case each week.

Or better yet, a nonprofit version of The Office that illustrates the absurdity of high-maintenance donors, board meetings where conversation goes in circles, and so on.

How great would that be?

My secret wish (not anymore) was for a show like Scandal and that central casting would come a-calling and knock on my door. After all, people have called me the Olivia Pope of the nonprofit space (sans the scandals) – “the nonprofit fixer.”

So I have some great news for Vu and everybody else in the nonprofit community.


A reality show? For real? (Did you just say “uh oh?”)

Well, I’ve already seen two completed episodes (I’ll reveal why below.) Here’s my take…

You need to watch it.

Here’s why…

The show is called GIVE. It’s the first network show about philanthropy and nonprofits and will run for 30-minute weekly on Saturdays for 52 weeks (at least.)

If you’re on the east coast, it will be on every Saturday at noon during NBC’s The More You Know block starting THIS SATURDAY, October 8, 2016. If you’re not on the east coast, check your local listings.


Think Undercover Boss meets Extreme Makeover meets two nonprofits.

Emmy winning actor Blair Underwood is the executive producer. Jenna Bush Hager (yes, one of W’s twins) is the host.

Here’s how each half-hour rolls.

A foundation works with the production company to select two small-but-mighty nonprofits. Could be a brand new nonprofit. Could be a new program of an existing organization. The only criteria is that the endeavor be small, creative, impactful, and where a relatively small donation can go a long way.

A celebrity goes undercover or visits each charity under some ruse. They touch and feel the work and meet staff and clients. They learn what they can.

Then comes the hard part. They decide how to allocate the funds. And both organizations must come out winners.

A special shout out from the team from Unite4:Good for its generous production underwriting.


While many celebrities are philanthropic (Jenna Hager Bush is deeply involved in UNICEF for example and Blair Underwood has a commitment to AARP), the decision-making is hard and so the celebrities are offered some assistance.

Often, the foundation exec is on hand to help tease out what moved the celebrities, what they see as the most pressing need for each, their perception of the leadership, the uniqueness of the organizations’ work, and the gap they are filling.

And in nearly episode there is a nonprofit expert who works to bring the celebrities to decisions they feel really good about.

Hmm… a nonprofit expert…?


It is! Let me tell you what I really like about it:

  • Feel-good. You can tell that the production team has its heart in this one.
  • No exploitation. It’s a reality show with a big heart. No bug eating and no one gets voted off an island. Can you imagine?
  • Inspiring and motivational. It’s inspiring to see the staff at each organization and their level of passion and dedication. In my work I get to see this every day. But for so many viewers it will be new. Hopefully it will be inspirational AND motivational.
  • Brings awareness. Each week two nonprofits get to shine for a national network audience.
  • Educational. You can tell that the celebrities really struggle with the decision and want advice on how to give money thoughtfully. A show that teaches people how to give away money? And then shows the sheer joy that comes with doing it?
  • World-changing. With promotion and social media by NBC and by the nonprofits’ own efforts to let their stakeholders know about this visibility, it is easy to imagine that the on-camera gift could be leveraged in a big way.


I have two.

And they’re REALLY exciting for me.

First… I am a consulting producer for the show. My role is clear as a bell – to ensure the philanthropic integrity of the show.


I’m actually in the show!!!

I’m so excited I have to write this twice. I’M ON A NETWORK TELEVISION SHOW ABOUT PHILANTHROPY!!!

I’m pinching myself (and giggling) as I write this.

Remember that nonprofit expert I mentioned who helps the celebrity talk through her/his decision? That would be me.

I am making my network television debut on Saturday October 8 on NBC.

I am kind of like a reality show judge. If you watch Top Chef, think Tom Colicchio with hair.

OK so now you have many reasons to watch. In real time, via DVR, on Hulu.

You need to tell me what you think.

I’m a very secure person in general but insecure when it comes to wearing makeup and being on TV. So if you are going to tell me what you think, promise you’ll be kind.


I’m delighted and proud to be a part of this production. And fifty-two very lucky nonprofits are going to get to shine for a network audience to see.

I hope you’ll watch and spread the word.

Not because of me. But because I want each of these nonprofits to shine in front of as many people as possible.

And also, lots of viewers will mean another season. And that means fifty-two more nonprofits get help next season.

I hope the show gets another bite of the philanthropic apple with a Season 2 – I think there are ways to expand how you define “philanthropy” and that there is a diversity of sectors of nonprofit work yet to be explored.

That said, what I can tell you with my head held high is that after you watch an episode, you will want to do whatever it takes to be one of the two nonprofits in what we hope will be Season 2.

I promise.

86 thoughts on “It’s Time For a Nonprofit Reality TV Show”

  1. So proud to work in this sector, Joan, and it was my true honor to introduce you at the Montana Nonprofit Association Conference in Helena last week. Warm regards and thanks for reminding us that we have a NOBLE profession!

  2. Karen. You are the first person to ask this question and I”m guessing you won’t be the last. Stay tuned – I’m going to need to talk to the production company to get more info. But we’ll need a season 2 before we’ll need more nonprofits!

  3. Congratulations! This is super news. Can’t think of a better “nonprofit” expert. Break a leg (not really – that is show biz speak for good luck and do well)!

  4. Joan this is great news! Sadly I cannot find this to DVR. I searched under “GIVE” and “The More You Know” but cannot find anything! Do you have any further suggestions? Did I miss read something?

  5. This is exciting! We fit the definition of small but mighty, thanks for bringing attention to that category! Break a leg!!

  6. That. is. awesome! Way to go, Joan! So, how does a nonprofit get to be one of those lucky (hopefully?) nonprofits?

  7. Fantastic news! I love everything about this. Thank you for being such a great champion of nonprofits and break a leg!

  8. It was awesome meeting you in Montana last week! You’re a mad genius as far as I can tell. So excited about the reality show! Looking forward to your book. Best, Jeannie

  9. check your tv listings for sat and see what is there – i suppose that it is possible that not all affiliates are picking it up. or sometimes an affiliate will preempt for a local sports event or something. anyway, there is always Hulu or

  10. If they are ever interested in talking to social entrepreneurs that do not have non-profit status (but meet the criteria for non-profit status), I’d love to tell them about my child care center for children with special needs.

  11. Joan – this is cool AF!! Seriously. It’s about time and who better than you (or Vu) to consult on this. Kudos. I will have to DVR it because I won’t be home but looking forward to seeing it.

  12. How exciting, Joan! Congratulations to you, but also to all in the non-profit world! This is exciting for all! Can’t wait to see your debut–I have no doubt that it’s going to be fantastic!

  13. What a fantastic way for people to learn about NonProfits and dispel some of the common misconceptions that the public often has about how they operate, what it takes to create impacts. Will there be a nominating process, or how will NPOs be selected? One personal thought I had related to our NPO is how could we possibly be “visited” in the traditional sense as a very geographically-spread out “virtual-office” driven NPO? And yet we have huge national impact and even reach 200 countries around the world. Can’t wait to see you in action Joan! Knock ’em dead!

  14. What wonderful news! I hope with all my heart that this will bring the many issues we face and the great good that so many of us achieve to forefront of the nation’s attention. Congratulations to you, Joan!! And THANK YOU for all of your incredible advice and support! You go, girl!

  15. As someone who works in a small-but-mighty nonprofit (we have actually been described as a “mighty team” by the leadership of the largest nonprofit in our sector), I’m so thrilled to hear about “Give” and I can’t wait to watch. I’m hopeful the show will introduce people to the inside world of nonprofits and also inspire those of us who work at a nonprofit to carry on the good fight! We will definitely be throwing our hat into the ring for Season 2. And congratulations, Joan, on being front and center of this initiative. I’m delighted that your excellent advice and counsel will be shared across yet another medium!

  16. That is great! We have so many outstanding personalities at our small but Mighty non profit and always joke about having a reality TV show. How do we get?! 🙂 Congrats Joan, thanks for all you do.

  17. Wow Joan! Congrats.
    Other than being on a different network, how is this different that “Secret Millionaire”? (I know I’ve had dreams of my nonprofit being part of that show.)

  18. Hi Joan – I was so sorry to miss you in Helena last week – you really made an impression on my colleagues: Jonna Michelson and Terri Elander (Missoula Children’s Theatre) . . . and our friend Molly Severtson! I have been following you for years and simply think you are a genius! Your generous, compassionate heart always shines through – yet you are never hesitant to speak the hard truths. This series is so exciting – I can hardly wait to watch! Thank you for always being a voice of sanity and reason!

  19. Congratulations, Joan — this sounds like a great program, and so well-deserved for you. I have asked my entire board (Nantucket Book Foundation) to read your newsletter and the response has been “wow! this is great stuff!” Thanks so much for all you do to support us.

  20. Sounds really interesting! I’m not sure how this would work with a trade association non-profit, though most of our work has become advocacy for our members’ right to do business in this country. But, it will surely help highlight some charities in a nice way.

  21. Congratulations Joan – You have always been a rock-star in my book!
    You blogs and podcasts are my renewable energy source. Can’t wait to see what you do on camera! 🙂

  22. Will DEFINITELY watch! I always read your blog, you have changed my non-profit world, so I am so excited to see what you do, Joan! Congratulations! This is so exciting for you–& I’ve been fortunate to meet Jenna Bush Hager and she is so lovely…great company

  23. Dear “Global” – Jenna is lovely and funny and smart and great company. You are spot on. Please do let me know what you think and I can pass it along to Jenna!

  24. Victoria. Can I give you my kids’ email addresses so you can tell THEM I am a genius. Also tell them I am a voice of sanity. I think they think I am nuts most of the time. Your kind words mean alot. Seriously.

  25. The first thing you do is tell everyone you know and everyone you don’t to watch. Season 1 is done. Without ratings, there is no Season 2 and no more nonprofits will be showcased! I will keep the tribe informed about the status.

  26. So glad this will be on Hulu. A great way to reach young adults who have cut the cord. A great idea.

  27. I’m game and I’ll do it for a reduced fee!! ???
    When I win the lottery I’m bringing you to MCT for at least a week. I’M serious.

  28. I’ve often wondered why this hasn’t happened before. Every time I watch shark Tank I think why can’t there be a philanthropic version.

  29. Season 1 is done. Without good ratings no season 2 and no new nonprofits. So I promise to keep everyone posted and hope you will help spread the word.

  30. NVM – just read the thread. Ha! Would love another visit to Montana and to work with your theatre. I spent all my college years in the library or in the theatre. (Or in the college bar now that I think about it)!

  31. Danielle. I never saw Secret Millionaire – sounds like one I should not have missed. As for the answer to your question, I guess you will have to watch to find out 🙂

  32. This is amazing. Congratulations! Love your blog. It is my continuing education. Thanks for sharing such great tools and insight. We are interested in trying out for season 2 when the time is right! Best of luck! I can’t wait to watch.

  33. So excited to watch this show. Have always thought if more people realized how important our work is and the difference we make in the lives of our clients, more folks would donate. (Probably the case for all of us, I’m sure.)

  34. Joan – I loved, loved, loved Give. Sent a link to my trustees in hopes that they will watch the video. We’re not there yet, but I look forward to the day when we can be part of an effort like this. Thanks!

  35. This is amazing! I have recently become an employee of a very new non-profit in West Palm Beach, Florida. It is Life’s Changes Palm Beach County, Inc and we help woman with hair loss due to medical conditions receive a wig for little or no cost. I can not express how rewarding this is to be a part of. The owners are such warm and giving people and I am blessed to be a part of this team. Is there an application process to be considered for season 2? I look forward to watching this Saturday! Thank you for all you do to help with the confusion and mess of starting a non-profit.

  36. Good day Joan: Just catching up on Give “on demand”, great show! I am excited to see how it develops.
    I wonder what goes on behind the scenes. We only get a small glimpse into the panel of experts. In situations where there are potential issues with the NFP, I hope someone is providing some extra help.
    I would love to see a segment where you and the other panel members can share more pearls of wisdom!
    Warmest regards!

  37. There is another show that was pitched to NBC called Inside Look TV Mag they focus on all charities. I think this is not the first show they came out two years ago.

  38. I’ve always thought there should be reality show called “Boards Behaving Badly”. Our nonprofit now offers low-cost mediation to Boards caught up in conflict.

  39. Fear ye not dear Joan… It’s a-coming as of 1st qtr next year. We’ve done one test case, with very positive feedback.
    PS: Really enjoy the podcast!

  40. This is awesome! I love The Profit and those type of shows. I was wondering when/how they would do a NON-profit reality show. Can’t wait!

  41. Congrats Joan,
    This TV show has been needed for the longest time! I’m so happy to see a great show like this for our kids, the charities that do tremendous work and those that need their help! I would really like to discuss another idea privately that I think would help your philanthropic efforts and allow for greater donations!!

  42. What a fantastic show! The people and the NonProfits presented in the show are so inspirational. It just shows what can be done to help in a various areas when possible. I’m assuming there are ways to help donating to the businesses presented?
    .I hope this show continues. I have shared this show with my co-workers in education.

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