Sometimes it seems as though “one-percenters” are the only people with the spare cash to make a difference in the world. But consider this report from the Chronicle of Philanthropy:
The wealthiest Americans—those who earned $200,000 or more—reduced the share of income they gave to charity by 4.6 percent from 2006 to 2012. Meanwhile, Americans who earned less than $100,000 chipped in 4.5 percent more of their income during the same time period. Middle- and lower-income Americans increased the share of income they donated to charity, even as they earned less, on average, than they did six years earlier.
Sigh. So maybe you can’t write a massive check. Can you still make a difference that matters? Absolutely. And small donations can go a lot farther than the apocryphal starfish story. (Paraphrased: A child was throwing stranded starfish—there were thousands on the beach—back into the sea, one at a time. “It makes no difference, there are too many,” said an observer. “It made a difference to that one,” the child said, and kept on throwing.)
Here are some great ways to give—and to make your starfish spread ripples.
Some excellent organizations manage thousands of small donations that together have a very large impact. One of the best is Global Giving. Simply search the site for projects and causes that speak to you, and give what you can. No donation is too small—and because they are combined, no donation is unimportant. Many other organizations do equally powerful work. You can buy a cow for a family in extreme poverty, which will cause their standard of living to soar. You can donate to disaster relief. You can educate girls who otherwise would never have the chance. You can feed the hungry.
You can also vet any organization you’re considering through Charity Navigator, which rates the effectiveness of nonprofits—and helps you steer away from scams.
If a big charity feels too impersonal, or you’d like to feel more connected to those you’re helping, you can make very small loans through organizations that provide funds to people whose tiny businesses will make the difference between hunger and hope for themselves, their children, and their communities. It’s an exciting way to impact faraway strangers you may grieve about, and brings a sense of their lives much closer.
The original site that brought microlending into view is Kiva.org, and it’s a heartening way to help. (Repayment rates are sky-high. But if your loan isn’t repaid on time, your money will be returned.)
Multiplying your gift
Thanks to the power of the internet, every individual or company who donates can easily multiply the value of their gifts. Whenever you mention a cause you’ve supported on social media, you can include a link so others can find out more. At Savvy Rest, in addition to larger corporate donation programs, we also support small efforts we’re touched by, such as school gardens, special needs organizations, or local charity fundraisers. Spreading the word is easy using Facebook or Twitter, and generosity is contagious.
If you’re inspired by entrepreneurs, check out Kickstarter for inventive projects (and even some world-changing ones) that need to pool small donations to get started. They’re fascinating to read about and fun to support.
Local giving and volunteering
Wherever you live are deserving people and organizations that would be very grateful for your help. In terms of efficiency, giving money and/or time in your own community is the most powerful giving of all.
Another benefit to helping locally is that when you walk down the street, you’ll feel more at home. You’re investing yourself, and in doing so you’re learning about real hopes and needs in your community. That perspective makes a huge difference in combatting isolation and disconnectedness—plagues of contemporary culture.
Altruism expert Allan Luks, author of The Healing Power of Doing Good, ran a large study of 3000 volunteers that showed that both their physical and mental health improved significantly once they began to volunteer regularly. Volunteering literally reduces physical stress and improves specific health measures such as blood pressure. It increases endorphins, the “feel-good hormones,” too. The biggest finding? Regular volunteers are 10 times more likely to be in good health than people who do not or seldom volunteer.
So when you help, you’re not just saving a few starfish. You might even be saving yourself.