To Choose a Charity
by Arika Egan
From afar, charity is just giving someone a resource they require. Peering closely, though, several questions come to mind. How do you know which cause you want to support, if a charity shares your values, or how you'll split up your money or time?
Then there's the question of how much of a difference your contribution is going to make. Is your chosen charity reputable? How much money is actually going towards the cause you want to forward? The questions go on. I hope to introduce to you a different way of thinking about charities. Figuring out what we wish to accomplish is the first place to start.
Fundamentally, what's the ultimate goal of charity? Our motivation usually goes deeper than simply wanting to do some good in the world; we want to make a difference, and hopefully a permanent one. Permanency is a key characteristic here. How will this happen?
I've rudimentarily broken up charity into four basic categories:
- Infrastructure charities are those that provide the groundwork for some kind of enterprise, society, or facility.
- Preservation/Promotion charities are those that aim to support an idea or location.
- Service charities enlist the physical help of volunteers to do some kind of job. They may include donating money to an organization that provides a service the average person can't do.
- Substance charities are those that aim to provide certain goods to various groups of people.
All four of these categories are extremely helpful in making a difference. When aiding people though, the best way to help is by providing individuals with the ability to sustain their own independence. This is why substance charities can be tricky. If you give someone a fish, they will keep relying on you for a fish. But if you teach them to fish, they will become independent and teach others to do the same. From this logic, it follows that the number one group that can achieve this is infrastructure.
When you donate money to a charity whose goal is to build a school, build a water pump, or install electricity in a rural community, you are improving that community's living conditions. Improved living conditions spark a chain reaction that leads to sustainable independence. A new school leads to higher education, leading to increased income, leading to more education, innovation, and the upward spiral of the community's substance independence.
The best way you can change a person's life is by assisting the promotion of healthier, more productive lifestyles through education. However, without the infrastructure that will allow them to be taught or use their skills, a permanent change cannot occur.
Theodore Roosevelt once said "Do what you can with what you have where you are." I tend to load myself up with activities; with my summer job and a research project, I don't have a lot of extra time to donate. So I donate my money. No matter what kind of charity you choose to take part in, remember that it doesn't have to be a large sacrifice - it only has to be effective.
I myself am particularly inclined towards giving everyone an education. I recently made a donation to an organization that provides college loans to students in developing countries whose governments do not have the means do so. I believe in education because I believe that changing the way people think is the only way to change the world. If we donate to an organization that strives to educate the world, we can, in the words of Bill Nye, "dare I say it....change the world!"
If choosing a charity gets the best of you, check out CharityNavigator.org for all the analysis you'll need for some of the biggest charities out there!
The college loan organization I donated to: Vitanna.org.
Arika Egan is a student at Northern Michigan University studying Philosophy and Physics.