Sometimes, figuring out the right thing is as hard or harder than doing the right thing. Take, for example, charity. Let’s say that you have $100 that you’ve decided to give to charity. Now what? What are your priorities? Do you give to the charity that is always bugging you (and, not coincidentally, spends a greater portion of the funds given to them on bugging people)? Do you prefer a local charity? Are you more interested in making sure people have food, or making sure animals in a shelter are not euthanized? Where would helping ensure a poor kid has a present under their tree fall in that spectrum? And what about the fact that $200 in a developing world can mean a matter of life and death for a child, where $200 barely scratches the surface of getting a politician whose policies you believe in elected? And then once you’ve decided that you want to help tsunami survivors in Indonesia, you need to figure out which organization is most likely to offer the greatest benefit to the actual survivors. This can be akin to rocket science.
I’ve certainly wrestled with this question a lot. Our church is by far our largest donation, which is likely true for many worshipers, and will continue to be true. I also regularly send a check to WBUR. I figure they are worth as much or more to me as my subscription to the Economist, and in a very similar way, so I almost see that more as a cost obligation than a donation. After that, I usually support the Greater Boston Food Bank. When Bad Stuff happens, I usually direct donations to help to the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance because I saw their work in Mozambique and know that they go about really smart disaster relief. I always make sure I mark my check for general funds, because it’s much cheaper and better to prepare for disasters than react to them (like stockpiling supplies in areas that have historically gotten cut off by flooding, to name one example).
But lately, I’ve been trying to “optimize” my charitable giving even more, and that’s required me to think about what is really important to me.
I’m particularly interested in:
*Decent quality of life for all the world’s people. To me that means at a minimum: basic healthcare, adequate water, sufficient food, safe housing, basic education
*Sustainability/climate change/making sure we all don’t die and civilization doesn’t collapse
*Reducing suffering for all people
*I also have a real soft spot for parents not having their children die. Every time I realize that people in other places love their kids as much as I love mine — but watch them die for lack of resources — my heart breaks into little itty bitty pieces.
Looking at those priorities, the most obvious solution seemsto be ensuring that every woman has only as many children as she chooses to have. Furthermore, helping women feel confident in having fewer children by making sure that the children she does bear have a good chance at surviving.
In America, we take as given our right to only have as many kids as we want. Don’t want more kids? There’s a myriad of options from the pill, implants, condoms, surgery or abstinence. Many of these options are NOT available to women in other countries, including abstinence. In Africa, rape is an ENORMOUS problem. Women often do not have the right to not have sex with their husbands, and in many war torn countries rape is used as a weapon of war. For a woman without contraceptives in place, this often means pregnancies and children for whom they do not have food, resources or energy. Many women still die in childbirth, leaving all their children orphaned. For other women, their only chance of feeding themselves and their children is sex work, which can often lead to more children and AIDS. Finally, nearly TWO MILLION children a year die of diarrhea alone. So parents in some cultures may have many children in the hopes that some will survive to adulthood to take care of their parents.
Shortly after I gave birth to Thane in a safe, well-stocked, well-attended birth in a sterile hospital with a bevy of medical professionals looking on, I read an article about an organization that was working to help make births safer by very simple safe birthing kits. You know, really advanced stuff like clean plastic sheeting and sterile razor blades to cut the umbilical cord. This same organization was also taking incredibly practical, sensible steps like creating ways to reduce diarrhea deaths and supporting the manufacture and distribution of female condoms that actually work and are affordable.
That’s when I decided that Path was my charity of choice going forward. For my giving priorities and values, this organization does the best job of making a real difference in people’s lives per dollar I can give. So for Christmas, the gift I asked for was the gift of reducing the number of parents who have to bury their children, or children orphaned by preventable causes.
What are your giving priorities? How do you decide between local or international giving? How have you found the charities you most believe in? Does the complexity of the question ever stop you from giving as much as you otherwise might?