Three days ago was Thanksgiving. And most of us in the US took a moment to be with family and friends and sit in gratitude, even if just for the day. But, gratitude of what exactly? I think it varies, but the theme is consistent. Togetherness, happiness, success… health and life. And while I’d love to take today to write a traditionally humorous, touching reflection on being grateful—I don’t think I will.
If there’s one thing I noticed this year, it’s that most of us know pretty well how to be thankful. We at least know how to say it… showing it, may be something different entirely. We know how to be audible about our happiness and showcase our thanks publicly; offering it to the Heavens, or the ether, or the universe—or whatever you believe in for all things joyous in life. What we forget, whether intentional or not, is what comes next. What should we do with our gratitude? What should we do when we stop getting ‘likes’ on our #blessed status? And how can we take that incredible feeling of warm and fuzzy gratitude and turn it into something meaningful?
It’s my sincere belief that if we have the capacity to give thanks then we have the capacity to give back. And I think most of us at least entertain the idea of giving back. But to whom? We start by giving out tangible gestures of love. We spend dollar after dollar over three hellacious days of Black Friday sales, small business shopping and Cyber Monday dot-com power hours. But when the receipts have settled and the trunk of your car can carry no more, do you feel you’ve given your gratitude back to the world in which you thrive?
It was from this void that Giving Tuesday began in 2012. It’s incredibly interesting to me that the days following the start of the giving season are days of commercialization and rabid consumerism. And while millions of us gleefully take part and inhale the glittering glory of getting that last LED Flat Screen for only 99 cents at Walmart… I encourage you to pause for a moment. Enjoy your goods, feel your cheeks glow rosy as you wrap each gift in jelly-bean paper… but now, consider another gift.
Giving Tuesday is the global day of giving to non-profits and charities all over the world. It’s always the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and it wraps up the hectic weekend of credit card swiping in a nice, velvet bow of meaningful philanthropy.
And that’s the key word I’d like to explore today. Meaningful. As most of you start this week coming down from the high of sugared yams and thankfulness, I urge you to consider merging your gratitude with mindfulness this giving season. Because the world genuinely needs your heart… but also your mind.
I honestly believe that the vast majority of people in the world are well-intentioned and eager to help. But the unfortunate reality is that charitable giving and foreign aid is often uninformed and in great need of direction. People give to organizations they know very little about because they followed the path of their friends who are donating on the tailwinds of popular hashtags and viral media. You purchase from recognizable names that offer something shiny and branded with a portion of proceeds benefitting the cause you believe in, but what you don’t know is that your donation given directly to that charity could have tripled the reach of your impact. You’ve unknowingly been conditioned to look at charity and giving in a way that will continue to keep effective organizations on the conveyer belt while for-profit sales sky-rocket. But it’s okay that you don’t know this. And most charities aren’t trying to trick you. It’s simply that the non-profit sector is fighting a battle against huge social issues, they’re working with a rule book entirely different from the for-profit sector, and those of you who want to help aren’t sure where, why, or how to invest. But rest easy, I think I can help.
My goal in this post is first, to urge you to give on this Giving Tuesday. And don’t give via purchasing goods on AmazonSmile, I mean give directly. Second, I ask you to consider how to give effectively so that your gift is not laced with the threads of unintended consequence. And finally, I ask you to view your role and your relationship with charity a bit differently than you did yesterday.
I’ve outlined five basic steps in becoming a (slightly more) Effective Altruist.
- Give to what you care about. The second a donation becomes just a tax deduction or an attempt at social praise is the moment you become detached from your impact. Most non-profits aren’t looking for open check books. They’re looking for people to join their efforts. I genuinely believe there’s no difference between the person in the field doing the work and the donor at home funding the mission. We’re all on the same team, we all have the same goal, and without the other—none of the work could be done. Don’t just give for the sake of it, join a cause you believe in and champion the work!
- Give with no strings attached. A common challenge is that we have all been conditioned to look into an organizations playbook and discourage risk before it even happens. Why? Because we want our dollars to be safe. We want them to be spent very, very carefully because they’re a gift—not a purchase. And hopefully when you start giving to an organization you sincerely believe in, you’ll stop viewing it as a gift and consider yourself an investor in the movement. But the moment you give $100 and demand that not a penny go toward overhead is the moment you sink the ship that is innovation and halt the reach of that organization’s potential. Let’s give with trust, and start accepting that just because I’m investing, doesn’t mean I know how best to spend the money. I don’t know the multi-tiered systems it takes to train a village in Ethiopia to dig structured water wells. I don’t know how many staff members it takes an organization to run an effective volunteer program. What I do know is this: I support organizations that have a vision I connect with, a model I believe in and a mission I find valuable. (If this sparks your interest, WATCH THIS)
- Give with humility. Hu-mil-i-ty: a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness. If you want to give back to a community or a specific population, be sure you respect and genuinely believe in the potential of those affected by your aid. If you want to empower women escaping abuse, believe in their ability to stand triumphant and bold in their skin, not because you feel sorry for them. If you wish to promote the acceptance of disabled individuals, be sure you’re giving to an organization that cares about those same values—and not simply because they have the biggest brand recognition. It is not our job to save these people. We are not better than them, and we are not saints for supporting them. We are allies and advocates. The difference is astounding. (WATCH THIS if you want a second opinion)
- Give because you can. I think this has been one of the most important lessons I’ve learned as an advocate, a fundraiser, and philanthropist myself. The big lesson is exactly as I’ve mentioned, we should give because we can. A dear friend of mine just reminded me tonight that it’s our responsibility to share our knowledge of the world with others. It’s a beautiful world, folks. But so many, so, so many people are living in realities we can’t really conceive. But here’s the thing…you can give opportunity and change simply by giving something else up. We all spend money on things we don’t need, but when it comes to giving, we glance at our accounts and decide there’s no excess for charity. But you don’t need excess. You simply make a list and decide what you could give up to change the lives of others. I give monthly to 3 organizations. Do you want to know what I gave up to be able to do that? My subscription to HBOnow and Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee.
- Give again. And again. If you take today to give to an organization you believe in, I sincerely applaud you. It’s the global day of giving, thank you for joining that movement. But don’t let it stop there. Find something you believe in, give with trust in that organization’s work, give with humility and don’t stop because you did it once. Invest. See the value in these organizations, take time to consider the value of the lives you’re impacting, and stand with them. Stand with them as an ally, a partner and an advocate for change. You are not the fuel in the tank that keeps the work going… YOU are the hinges and bolts and without you we simply cannot win against these major, global issues we’re trying to outrun.
I encourage you to give. Take your gratitude and invest it in the world in which you have found the contentment. Give to the sector we often forget about when swiping plastic and know that your gifts are valued. Your passion is valued. Your support is changing the world and in return, you’ll receive nothing tangible. But what you’ll feel is hope, and that’s a hell of a lot warmer than cashmere.
If you know of a charity you’re considering supporting this GivingTuesday but don’t know where to begin with research, check out GreatNonprofits.org or GiveWell.org.
I’ve listed below two organizations I personally believe in, invest in, and stand with. I would love for you to check them out if you’re unsure of who to support today.
– Global Autism Project :Promotes the acceptance and integration of individuals with autism worldwide by training local communities in culturally relevant, quality practices.
– LOCWOM :Focused primarily on empowering disadvantaged women, LOCWOM strives to give individuals the ability to create positive change for themselves and their communities through education and skills training.
Below are a few additional non-profits that I believe are doing some pretty grand things in the world.
Happy giving everyone!