Muslims make it the third of the five pillars of Islam. Buddhists make it so vital that wanting to have anything is anathema to them. Christians once thought that to not do it made you a heretic worthy of excommunication, and Thomas Aquinas reportedly said that it “…brings to life again those who are spiritually dead”.
We are of course talking about giving, charity, philanthropy. Something you don’t need to be religious to recognise the full and deep benefits of.
We all feel good when we give, but there are ways to make it go further, to make the good it does even better.
Follow these four useful tips, and your giftings won’t just make you feel as good as you can, they’ll also actually be the best they can be for the world and everyone around you.
Find a cause you care about
You’ve heard it said that charity should begin at home. You’ve also heard of thinking global and acting local. You might also have heard that giving a man a fish feeds him for a day, but teaching a man to fish feeds him for a lifetime. All this advice has some merit, partial wisdom, and indeed some deep meaning. But there’s also no real substitute for interest, passion, and care.
Don’t let anyone tell you that what you care about isn’t important and that the cause you want to promote/donate to isn’t worthy of your hard earned money. Lots of people fall down the rabbit hole of trying to find the most “deserving” cause out there. That is ultimately a question without an answer. When viewed from some angle or other, anyone will be able to tell you that X cause is more/less important than Y campaign. Trying to answer that kind of problem will only end up with philanthropic burnout, long before you’ve even given a single penny.
If you have a passion, something specific you want to see happen, or get better, follow it. Charity shouldn’t be just about giving what you can. It should also be about giving what you want.
Narrow your giving
Once you’ve found a cause, now you need to find a charity. Ideally one, but more broadly the rule of thumb here is the fewer charities you give to, the better. Every charity runs into the problem that some percentage of the donations they receive ends up on overheads, administrative costs, and other non-cause related issues.
The fewer charities you give to, the more of your money goes towards the cause itself, rather than getting rediverted elsewhere.
Track down your giving
There’s nothing wrong with thinking of the money you give as an investment. An investment in a better world, to be sure, but still an investment. Investors like to know when they’ve given someone money that it’s getting used to doing good things in a great way. Sure your return on investment is a better world rather than some kind of long term dividend, but still.
When thinking about your charity selection process, take a good hard look into just how transparent they are with their funds. Partly that’s to make sure everything is Kosher/Halal, but more importantly, it’s good to know exactly what your money has done. It gives you that incentive to keep giving, and the knowledge that you’re actually making a definite difference.
Volunteer, help out, or otherwise give your time
Giving money is one thing. We all have different amounts of that to spare. But each and every one of us, from the elitist executive to the lowliest leaf-sweeper has only 24 hours in the day. When we give up some of those to make the cause we believe in go that little bit further, then we really start to feel good about our giving.
Depending on the cause you’re giving to, this could be more difficult than it first seems. If homelessness is what you want to work towards lessening, that’s one thing. There you can work in the soup kitchens, or distribute blankets. If however, you’re donating to Amnesty International to try and stop China arresting Muslims in their far western provinces however, that could be more complicated. But don’t despair, and don’t take no for an answer. Charities always need help somehow. Maybe it won’t directly connect to your cause, but it will still be something, and it will still make things better.
Charity is a huge part of a good life well lived. When you do it, make it the best it could ever be.