Mercy Corps founder Dan O'Neill on the importance of monthly giving

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  • Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps

Dan O’Neill remembers the moment he decided he would commit his life to helping others survive war, poverty and disaster.

As a young volunteer for a faith-based organization in Africa, Europe and the Middle East, he witnessed countless atrocities and intense human suffering.

The devastation of the Yom Kippur war between Israel, Syria and Egypt in 1973 struck him particularly hard. “It planted in me the seeds to want to respond in a meaningful way,” says O’Neill.

After seeing more than a million people die in the Cambodian killing fields just a few years later, O’Neill reached a tipping point.

“I finally said ‘I have to do something.’ That was the moment of crisis, and the moment of opportunity for me. What was I going to do? I could be angry or sad, or I could see it as a moment of opportunity.”

With the help of then-First Lady Rosalynn Carter, O’Neill organized a fundraising event in 1979 in response to the genocide in Cambodia.

After the successful gathering, O’Neill co-founded Save the Refugees Fund, an emergency task force to help people affected by the crisis. The fledgling organization raised $1 million to bring lifesaving aid to refugees.

This experience gave O’Neill the confidence he needed to dive deeper into the world of humanitarian relief. And so, O’Neill formally established Mercy Corps in Seattle with co-founder Ellsworth “Ells” Culver in 1982.

“We wanted to help people, and we were willing to color outside the lines and be creative,” says O’Neill. “That gave us credibility and access. And soon we grew into an evolving organization that became a global family.”

The approach that made Mercy Corps stand out three decades ago is now a key component of our work in more than 40 countries around the world.

To O’Neill, flexibility was the key to building an organization that functions well in complex environments. “The ability to adapt to change while maintaining relationships over time is so important. I think we were and still are adaptable.”

One special donor inspires Partners In Mercy

For O’Neill, Mercy Corps’ mission is personal. He cares deeply about our staff on the ground and the people in crisis they reach every day — and he also cares about the individuals who give to Mercy Corps because of their own desire to help others.

“For me, part of Mercy Corps’ mission is helping people find a way to make a positive difference wherever they may be in life,” says O’Neill. “We’re all human and there are core things that are common to all of us. So we want to give people an outlet to make a difference.”

The Partner In Mercy monthly giving program began in the early 1980s because of one special donor. The donor called O’Neill personally, relaying that she wanted to give to the organization every month, but didn’t want Mercy Corps to worry about sending her letters and mail.

She requested 12 marked envelopes, and sure enough — she sent in donations each and every month.

Since then, the Partner In Mercy program has helped dedicated donors easily and conveniently give a monthly gift — and they become part of a special community that is invaluable to the organization throughout the year.

O’Neill is a Partner In Mercy himself, and stresses how important this community is to helping Mercy Corps create positive change and real impact when it matters most.

“Monthly donors are important. The core funds that come from monthly donors give us the flexibility we need to get the job done and make a difference,” says O’Neill.

“When an emergency hits, like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or the 2015 Nepal earthquake, we have to go in and respond. Flexible funding helps us meet emergency needs, and that is critically important to us.”

Giving that connects you

The gifts that Mercy Corps receives from Partners In Mercy add up quickly. They help us balance our budgets and maintain those vital core funds that come into play during a disaster or emergency.

The Partner In Mercy program is also about connecting our dedicated supporters to the people that they are helping each and every month.

“It makes them part of the greater Mercy Corps family,” says O’Neill. “It brings donors into our circle of communication, to feel like they’re part of something.”

Members of the Partner In Mercy Community receive monthly updates about the difference they’re making, and can be confident that every month, their gift is going to help vulnerable people around the world.

“Every day we read about the pain and the tragedy that is all around us, and this is an instantaneous way to respond to that,” says O’Neill. “We live in a really busy world, so we want to make it really easy for people to give and feel like they are part of the solution.”

“If you see a photo of young Aylan Kurdi and you’re moved — you want to be able to do something about it — or you see a human tide of refugees from Syria — you can take that frustration and grief and translate that into help,” says O’Neill.

Every monthly gift helps

Our world is full of large and complex challenges that can seem impossible to solve. But O’Neill always comes back to the idea that started it all — that one person can make a difference.

“It doesn’t matter how much it is, large or small, every little bit counts,” he says. “If you reach out and touch the life of one child, you’re moving the needle — you’re helping.”

With the support of Partners In Mercy, O’Neill is proud of what the organization has been able to accomplish. “I think we have influence. We’re using innovation and we’re having a seriously positive impact. That is what still excites me.”

It’s easy to see that O’Neill has an overwhelming sense of appreciation for our extraordinary Partner In Mercy community. “I want to express gratitude to each and every one of them. Thank you for reaching out in an ongoing partnership that’s making a difference. You’re making this world a little bit better every day.”

When Partners In Mercy come together, they create a global community of compassionate supporters who make a huge impact for the people we help in more than 40 countries around the world, from Syria to South Sudan.

“The impact is taking place thanks to their collective efforts,” says O’Neill. “Partners In Mercy are a community of all these donors, who may not know each other, but who are leveraging the group to bring focus and impact to pressing global needs.”

Become a Partner In Mercy

As a Partner In Mercy, your monthly gift helps change lives all year long in more than 40 countries around the world. Give monthly and become a Partner In Mercy ▸