What does success mean to you?

Giving back isn’t something I’ve been particularly good at.

One year my family and I worked in a soup kitchen for Christmas, I was the spokesperson for the National Rainforest Association at USC, and I went to impoverished schools to teach them improv during high school. But, I could do more. We all could.

Digital Hope is an organization that reminds me that I want to do more.

Digital Hope is a nonprofit organization that performs volunteer projects around the world for high-impact, independent organizations – places like orphanages, wildlife sanctuaries or schools – and they use the power of social media to fund each project.

Johnny Roa, the founder of Digital Hope, asked me a question last weekend – “If you found a large amount of money lying on the floor, what would you do with it?” I paused, thoughts of movies being made, flats in Paris and travel immediately entered my mind. But, I honestly didn’t know exactly what I would do with this large undisclosed sum.

He did. He knew exactly what he wanted to do with a large sum of cash (mind you, he didn’t find it, he earned it.)

That’s also a similar question he asks donors: “If you are going to donate money, wouldn’t you want to know exactly where it was going?”

Well, many nonprofits give less than 50%, some as bad as only 1%, of all donations to the actual cause – allowing the rest to go to administrative fees, salaries and well, could you call it profits? Johnny tells me that there are even a few cases where for-profits masquerade as not-for-profits. (Click here and here for examples of both.)

Another thing that Johnny discovered while researching other charities and non-profits was that many of their CEO’s were making nearly half a million dollars, sometimes more. Upon first glance, it seems fair that if said CEO’s work hard, and contribute to the well-being of others that they should be given a fair wage. However, what most people don’t realize is that this means the first 15,000 $20 donations would go directly into the CEO’s pocket. If you donated your hard-earned money, wouldn’t you want to know that it was going to the people and the causes you were fighting for, and not the CEO living in his/her penthouse apartment?

Johnny wanted to find another way to live his life.

interviewed Johnny back in December for a completely different thing entirely. He also happens to own a few companies himself, one of which is a user-experience strategy and design firm called AKTA. The interview was for a presentation he was giving at a midVentures DESIGN + DEVELOP series (midVentures being the company I used to work for, and who recently threw Chicago’s TechWeek). He answered the email from a bus driving through the Chilean mountains.

At the time, I thought: This guy certainly has it all. Successful businessman, world traveler. What more could you ask for?

But, he had already started thinking about the “best case scenario,” as he calls it. Before Digital Hope, his “best case scenario” basically involved making money, making other people a lot of money, employing others, traveling as he likes, etc – all that comes with a comfortable lifestyle.  He writes in a blog post:

“I posed this question to my best friend when I was first thinking about Digital Hope: “can you imagine the best case scenario of a day’s work being that you saved a child’s life, or put a roof over a family’s head?”. Even as I was saying it, I knew I had to have that. I must know what it feels like to have an outcome other than the traditional definition of success.”

So, he started Digital Hope, he gave a large sum of his own towards this charity, he’s finding incredible investors to put money into the administrative day-to-day operations (to make sure that 100% of money donated by you and me goes to help those in need and NOT pay for their operations). He and his best friend Ruairi Hyland, are trading the big city life for a life on the road, living out of a backpack, traveling the world helping those in need.

Yes, they will change the world, I have no doubts, one brick at a time.

They are searching for underfunded charities the world-wide who have great people behind them, but just need a little more money, a little more time, and a little more help. Digital Hope will use social media to find donors, to spread the word, to film their interactions with the locals, and to show you how they are helping. They want the donors to see where their money is being used (and no, their airfare and accommodations will not be included in that).

They are literally giving hope to others through digital means.

I am inspired. If I go missing in January, it’s because I have packed myself into Johnny and Ruairi’s suitcase. If you want to find out more, please follow them on Twitter, and check out their website.


  1. This is an amazing post Meagan. I have a small charity that funds a school in Ghana. It's hard work trying to drum up funds, remain positive and keep on asking for money. I wish I had half this guy's drive.


    1. You and Johnny should talk – that's exactly the types of places he's looking to collaborate with – underfunded nonprofits – non denominational, non secular charities around the world who need a little extra boost.


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