Crowdfunding helps spread forgiveness in society

Forgiveness Tree

Research conducted at Arizona State University tells us that people who learn to seek and grant forgiveness for harmful behavior are less angry, isolated and violent. Now, ASU professors and students are looking to the public to help spread the practice of forgiveness across the community.

The Forgiveness Tree Project is being implemented by faculty members Vince Waldron, Doug Kelley and Dayna Kloeber, along with undergraduate students in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. New College is the core college on the West campus. The faculty members teach courses in New College’s BA and BS degrees in communication studies and the master of arts in communication studies (MACS) program.

“The topic of forgiveness is of vital importance, particularly at a time when our society is infused with sometimes bitter political division and we frequently hear stories of disputes ending in violence,” Waldron said. “We invite people to fund our efforts to bring our Forgiveness Tree Project to schools and communities.”

A cornerstone of the project is the Forgiveness Tree Ceremony, which teaches the what, why and how of forgiveness. As part of the ceremony, community members anonymously put in writing, on paper “leaves,” what they have learned about forgiving others and themselves. Leaves are placed on a symbolic tree, which is located in a prominent community location. The tree becomes an enduring reminder of the community’s collective commitment to grow forgiveness.

“We have been pilot testing the Forgiveness Tree Ceremony as a way to teach forgiveness ideas and practices,” Waldron said. “The results have been encouraging, with most participants finding ways to apply these principles in their relationships with others.”

To take the effort to the next level, Waldron and his colleagues have been selected to be one of the first of several ASU research projects kicking off crowdfunding campaigns. The campaigns are part of ASU’s new, official crowdfunding program, managed by the ASU Foundation for a New American University. Several student ventures have already launched campaigns through the program.

Now, the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development (OKED) is managing a new effort for faculty research, kicking off a rolling pilot period that began in December and continues through 2014.

Crowdfunding is a means of securing financial support by helping individuals tap into their networks through the Internet. While a lot of research funding relies on receiving large amounts of money from a single donor, crowdfunding campaigns usually succeed through small donations from many individuals.

“Forgiveness is an ideal response to the inevitable hurt we all encounter,” Kloeber said. “But in reality, it can be tough to do. Forgiveness education can help people think realistically about what forgiveness is and isn’t.”

“Fifteen years of researching forgiveness has taught me that people often confuse forgiveness with excusing, justifying or tolerating bad behavior,” added Kelley.

The researchers have determined that forgiveness is a “teachable” process. It involves accountability for harm we bring to one another, and learning to be empathetic and compassionate. When community members learn that forgiveness is a viable option, they often choose to let go of bitterness, grudges and the desire for retribution. The result can be more respectful and peaceful relationships.

“Our program is heavily focused on how forgiveness is communicated – a concrete detail that often proves useful,” Kloeber said.

In September 2013, Kloeber and communication major Shelbi Kidd attended a Forgiveness Tree Ceremony at a retreat of ASU’s Delta Gamma sorority. Kidd made the 130 forgiveness tree leaves on which the Delta Gamma sisters wrote their forgiveness messages.

“It was really cool to see it in action because you saw people really get involved and you saw how much they listened and how touched they were,” Kidd said. “It helped a lot of those young women to move and grow.”

You can see all of ASU’s crowdfunding campaigns, powered by the USEED platform, at Because contributions are made through the ASU Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports ASU, donations may be considered charitable contributions.

“We are extremely pleased to be involved with this crowdfunding project, because it allows citizens to fund the projects that matter to them personally,” Waldron said.

The faculty members are donating their time and expertise to the Forgiveness Tree Project. Funds raised by this campaign are used to support training in the community.

Feb. 12 is the deadline to make a contribution to the Forgiveness Tree Project.       

If you are an ASU researcher interested in raising money through USEED, contact Kathryn Scheckel, assistant director of special projects for OKED, at 480-965-9293. If you are an ASU student or staff member interested in crowdfunding, please contact Shad Hanselman, senior director of the Office of Annual Giving at the ASU Foundation, at 480-965-0516.