Oprah’s Big Give is a Big Disappointment

I finally caught up on my TiVo recordings over the weekend. I watch exactly two television shows now, Lost and CSI. With Lost now going on an extended break, and CSI still gearing up for new episodes, I decided to record some new shows and give them a try. Oprah’s Big Give seemed to be a show I would like based on its premise of giving away money for good causes. It looked to me to be sort of a reality show for Secret Santas.

The first two episodes were about what I expected, but as the stakes were raised and the dollar amounts increased, I became more disappointed with each new show. In the March 23 airing contestants were asked to give away $100,000 in twenty-four hours. The stipulations were you could not give away more than $500 to any one person, or $10,000 at any one location, and you could not simply give away cash.

I was surprised when none of the contestants visited local churches, hospitals or social services offices. These seemed like obvious places to look for people who are hurting, emotionally, physically and/or financially. Most churches have a long list for their benevolence funds, and not all of them are requests for cash money. Many families need help making a car payment, or getting their mortgage caught up just to get back on track. Others may be recovering from a serious illness and are buried in medical bills, or have experienced a disaster such as a house fire or flood and have lost all of their belongings.

Many municipalities are closing city pools and recreational facilities because of a lack of funding and dilapidated equipment. I can just imagine a local Boys or Girls Clubs in Miami would have loved to have received a new basketball goal, or other updated recreational equipment for their facilities. Orphanages are frequently in need of linens and meal supplies to care for young people in their charge. Soup kitchens and shelters struggle to keep staples such as flour, bread, meats and rice in stock. There is no shortage of stories of victims of Hurricane Andrew still living in homes in need of repair, fifteen years after the hurricane blew through Miami. $10,000 would have gone a long way at each of these places.

Instead, some contestants bought groceries for random shoppers, gave away flowers at an intersection ($2,000 worth), and donated pet food and supplies to an animal shelter. These were all noble deeds, but I thought the name of this game was Big Give! These contestants were guilty of thinking small.

I was once part of a corporate initiative to implement a process improvement plan throughout the company. Our trainer had us perform an exercise in the very beginning of the 6-week training course called “think BIG.” Basically, each team was given an idea and told to expound on it as many times as we could in ten minutes. My group received the task, “Start a youth sports program – your existing budget is $0.00.” We started frantically throwing out ideas and capturing them on a worksheet. Separating each line on the worksheet were the words, “think BIGGER!

After completing ten or eleven lines we had a strategy to start a youth football league sponsored by area businesses and local sports teams. A new stadium would be built using a combination of public and private, corporate-sponsored funds. Concession sales and banner advertisements lining the playing fields would pay for ongoing maintenance. Not bad for ten minutes of brainstorming. However, if the words “think BIGGER” had not appeared under each idea we might have stopped with “sell Krispy Kreme donuts to raise some money.”

Most people stop thinking big somewhere along the way. We all settle into our lives and outgrow those big dreams we had as a kid. I’d encourage anyone reading this to “think BIGGER” when imagining what we could do collectively to help other people. It’s easy to sit in my living room and play armchair quarterback, but I would like to think if I had a chance to give away $100,000 to people in need I could find more worthy recipients.

Image Credit: Daily News


  1. One can’t argue against what you say – it makes reasonable sense.

    But be careful not to knock the pleasure and weird synchronisity of random acts of kindness.

    The world would be a dreary place if we always ‘did the right thing’. Not even the poor & destiture want that.

    Albert @ Headspace

  2. I love the ‘THINK BIG’ strategy, and I agree with some of your criticims of the show. I think it would have been fairly easy (and much more benficial) to find people in need rather than to give away flowers…

  3. Albert, you make an excellent point. Many of the good deeds on the show were meant to inspire others to perform good deeds, and that is a noble effort. I agree there is a place for that spirit of giving, however I just felt it should have come after other basic needs were met. I guess that’s the practical side of me taking over. Thanks for sharing your comments.

  4. I think one of the contestants did go to an office that provided tokens and bus passes for kids who had aged out of foster care. I think that this show gets people thinking about giving. Its hard to get it all together in just 24 hours. My favorite give was the guy who went to the repair shop and paid for open ticket car repairs. I have a good used car that, while paid for, still from time to time eats at my emergency fund. So I thought that was a great give and very appreciated.

    You are right about the churches, its possible none of the contestants are church members so they didnt know about the lists.

  5. As much as i wanted to read through your entire post, i couldn’t 🙁 I’ve only watched the first 2 shows (and loved them!) and still need to go back and watch the others! he he…

    From the parts i skimmed, however, i’m pretty sure i’d have to agree w/ the “Think Bigger” message. Some of those from the first cple shows weren’t all that creative.

    But at least the show is a positive influence. Can’t say much about some others i’m addicted too 🙂

  6. It seems like some people were thinking random. And as others have said…not a bad thing at all, but not the intent, I think.

    Some things I can think of—my church works with refugees and immigrants, I know there are some big needs there…even $500 would go a very long way for a family. If it couldn’t be cash, it could be their rent for a month.

    Or to help the abused women’s shelter nearby cover the cost of gas for its busing service (I’m sure that’s getting more expensive). They have pickup times and places where women can just get on. One woman brought her son to the library with a few clothes in his backpack and then onto the bus she went. Perhaps a gas card.

  7. I watched the first show and found it so lame that I haven’t bothered with it since.
    If Oprah wants to see some people in need she should come to any city and stand at a bus stop —
    now there’s an eye opener for all of us.

  8. I agree with you on the fact there are way better places to donate to than an animal shelter (not to say that wasn’t a worthy cause). I still like watching the show. If anything, this show will spur on others to do more RAOK, hopefully!