Humans, as the poet once said, contain multitudes. At our worst, we’re selfish, greedy and deceptive. We have a long-established capacity for cruelty. We hurt one another with impunity. But at our best, our species trends toward goodness. A desire to help our neighbors. To serve. To decrease the suffering and increase the safety of society’s most vulnerable members. Even in light of our many downfalls, we have — generally speaking — proven to be empathetic beings.
Nowhere is this more evident than in our outpouring of support for those in crisis. The 2014 estimate for charitable giving in the United States was $258.51 billion. That number dwarfs the $36.4 billion that the movie industry took in worldwide at the box office that same year. Sure, the mega rich are clearly skewing the generosity curve here, but it’s fair to say that your friends and neighbors are spending more on helping one another than they are on movies. Not bad, humanity.
In our current political and cultural moment — one which seems like a noteworthy blip along the universe’s slow arc toward virtue — people are more discerning than ever about where their money goes. They want to know how it’s being spent and why. This is a good thing. Intentions are valuable, to be sure, but not all giving was created equal.
If you’re thinking of donating today, we have a few keys to concentrate on:
Know what matters to you
I used to co-direct a non-profit for disabled kids. We were as grassroots as could be — no one took a salary, we even charged ourselves entry to our own fundraisers. Still, if you wanted to help children with Down Syndrome or autism, you could have done better than us. Our programming wasn’t comprehensive, we simply ran a summer camp for one week every year. In fact, our mission of pairing one kid with one young adult counselor didn’t make much sense… unless you thought of us as a program meant to benefit both kids and young adults (most of them on a medical track in the UC system).
If creating a future of more selfless, big-hearted doctors while helping children with disabilities was your objective, we were a great place to donate.
The point being: To give effectively, you have to know what you care about. Do you want to serve the homeless? Single mothers? Victims of domestic abuse? There are .orgs for you. Pick one; get excited about it. Think about volunteering to deepen your connection.
Unless you’re very wealthy, the chances are that you won’t be able to give significantly to more than a handful of causes, so make sure the ones you choose are organizations you trust and feel passionately about.