It’s Time For a Nonprofit Reality TV Show

nonprofit reality tv give

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.

THERE IS GOING TO BE A NONPROFIT REALITY SHOW ON NBC!

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.

WHAT EXACTLY IS THE SHOW ABOUT?

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.

HOW DO THE CELEBRITIES DECIDE? 

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…?

THIS SOUNDS GREAT. IS IT?

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.

ANY GOOD REALITY SHOW NEEDS SOME TRUE CONFESSIONS

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.

OK, TIME FOR ONE LAST TRUE CONFESSION

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.

THIS IS SO EXCITING! PLEASE WATCH THE SHOW AND SHARE THIS NEWS!

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.

Joan Garry
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Joan Garry

Widely known as the "Dear Abby" of nonprofit leadership, Joan works with board and staff as a strategic advisor, crisis manager, change agent and strategic planner. Joan also teaches at the University of Pennsylvania with a focus on nonprofit communications and leadership.
Joan Garry
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