Choose where to give

Just like there are many causes you can give to, there are also many philosophies that can help guide your giving.

Creating your own philosophy will help you find the nonprofits that you wish to support. This will become clearer later in the guide. For now, let’s explore this idea further. What scope or lens might you want to apply to your giving?

Take a few minutes and write down your reactions to the following questions:

  • Do you care about giving locally where you may have a direct connection to the cause?
  • Can you make the biggest difference in addressing your cause by supporting efforts in other areas of the world?
  • What is more important to you: the impact of your dollar, or having a personal connection to your cause?

To help you develop your ideas, we’ve outlined some helpful thoughts below on how other philanthropists have approached similar questions. Note what resonates most with you. What gets you excited? Do you have an “Aha!” moment? Or a strong emotional response? If yes, write that down and use it to further shape your own giving philosophy.

Local and community giving

Local giving is rewarding and valuable because many communities, no matter the size, have causes that can benefit from your support. The giving can be emotional and intimate, and it can encourage you to interact more with your community. Some examples include donating to the local homeless shelter, coaching a children’s sports team, or volunteering at a nursing home or animal shelter.

As you get to know your community better and understand the context of the challenges you want to help overcome, you will continuously learn about more effective ways to make an impact!

Write down which of these following community initiatives you would be willing to donate to or volunteer for, if any:

  • Homeless Shelter
  • Animal Shelter
  • Women’s shelter
  • Schools
  • Sports teams
  • Food Pantries
  • Employment Services
  • Rehabilitative Services
  • Senior Homes
  • Political Advocacy Organizations
  • LGBT Advocacy
  • Youth Centers
  • Booster Clubs
  • Health Services
  • Park Districts
  • Local Religious Organization

Giving to causes outside of your local community

Our world is more connected than ever, which means our sense of community is no longer confined to our immediate neighborhoods. There is a growing sense of global citizenship, which means our fates and successes are interdependent.

If you possess such a broad outlook, the phrase “charity starts at home” really means supporting causes around the world. The good news is that there are tremendous opportunities to support issues outside your own community

We suggest thinking first about whether the cause you are passionate about is best supported through global initiatives (ex: clean water access or climate change initiatives). Learn where in the world your issue is most dire and where there exists the greatest opportunity to address it.

If there is a community you want to support (think: Nepal after the earthquake), focus on finding resources that outline the needs of this specific community in this specific situation. Often local nonprofits have a better sense of what community needs actually exist and how to form thoughtful, appropriate and sustainable solutions, as opposed to international organizations (which may not have an appropriate understanding of community interests) forging interventions.

For example, with a disaster like the Nepal earthquake, the needs are often much greater than the initial emergency response efforts. Immediate needs like food, water and shelter are critical, but so are ensuring that pregnant mothers, children and families can access health facilities when roads have been completely destroyed. Remember supporting recovery efforts is also a huge part of disaster relief work. Local organizations usually have the best sense of what these recovery efforts entail.

Strategic Philanthropy

After you discover which causes are important to you, the question for strategic philanthropists specifically becomes: where can my investment of time and money do the most good in making a difference in this area?

While the term “strategic philanthropy” is used primarily in the context of the relationship between a foundation and its hands-on approach with grantees, the core principles are applicable to anyone thinking about how to maximize the effectiveness of his or her philanthropy. In many ways, this whole Toolkit serves as resource to help you think like a strategic philanthropists.

Below are key considerations that define “strategic philanthropy”, which can be applied to how you approach your giving at a local or global level:

  • What are my goals? Develop clearly defined objectives for your giving. Your decisions about where to give should be in support of achieving your intended outcomes.
  • How do I best achieve these goals? Determine which organizations to support based on what has worked well in the past: successful strategies supported by evidence.
  • How do I know I’m achieving these goals? With the help and guidance of nonprofit partners, monitor the success of your initial support. Don’t hesitate to change course based on your learnings from this process.

Check out our Resource Library to learn more about strategic philanthropy and how you can adopt this approach in your personal philanthropy.

Effective Altruism

Effective altruism is guided by the question: where can you help those who are in the most need?

Effective altruists define effectiveness by how many lives are saved and how much they are improved by each dollar given through a data driven approach. When determining which cause to support, effective altruists focus on the following factors: scale, tractability, and neglectedness.

  • Scale: How many lives would be impacted if we made headway on addressing the issue?
  • Tractability: Could our support make a significant different?
  • Neglectedness: Has the cause not been given the attention it deserves to date?

Effective altruists would rather give to the most globally impoverished, not focusing on inequality but rather focusing on the eradication of absolute poverty.

It is worth noting that some types of issues may not even fit well into the effective altruism or local giving paradigms. One such example is advocacy work for large-scale social change. This may not be easily monitored or evaluated the same way effective altruists determines impact in their cause areas.

For more information on Effective Altruism, and its creator Peter Singer

For distilled characteristics of Effective Altruism, this GiveWell post is an interesting read

Here’s a criticism of Effective Altruism by David Brooks for The New York Times

Effective Altruism, like many giving philosophies, can be controversial. The question of how to effectively solve the world’s problems is immense, driving individuals to develop an interpretation of how their charitable contributions can create the greatest possible change. If Effective Altruism is not right for you, there are other philosophies aimed at doing good. It’s important to remember that while you might not agree with another’s philosophy, we all share the same goal.