Two observations that I’ve noticed over the years:
1) Everyone wants to change the world in their own way.
2) That goal seems so insurmountable that almost no one starts.
One of the challenges that I’ve always had with charitable giving is how faceless everything is. You give to XYZ charity with the very best of intentions – my particular causes tend to revolve around the arts, helping children, and giving a hand up to people who are homeless and trying to dig themselves back out and into society – but find yourself wondering how much of your $10/$20/$100/$whatever goes to actually helping and how much just continues to keep the paper being pushed in the great administrative wheel.
And then I learned about microphilanthropy, and my charitable giving world changed. Microphilanthropy is essentially a person-to-person (or person to group) method of giving. The first introduction I had to it was a few Christmases ago, when I read a newspaper story on the website Homeless Partners , which was a local charity that allowed people who were homeless or just really, really down on their luck to post a list of one or two items that they wanted for Christmas. Awash in the general warm fuzziness of the holidays already, this was an idea that immediately jived with my personal ethos. I want to help the individual, not the entity – and that’s hard to do with the way charities are often organized.
So I scrolled through the lists of presents people wanted. Unsurprisingly, most of them were things like ‘warm boots, size 8’, or ‘a Tim Hortons gift card, so I can warm up my fingers on a cold day’. Making sure that one person had warmer fingers inspired me vastly more than a faceless organization claiming to help the masses. (I do, for the record, recognize that they do invaluable work, but it just isn’t a close enough person-to-person connection to inspire me). And I chose a fellow named Joe, in his mid fifties, who wanted a winter jacket and a Tim Hortons gift card. (My experience working in welfare showed me that homeless single white males in their mid-fifties have it the hardest – they tend to be the least resourced group and in need of the most help). So I bought it, wrapped it up, wrote a card to go with it, and dropped it off. And you know what? That $50 brought me so much more satisfaction than the hundreds I’d given the rest of the year.
So on a crummy day, I’ll sometimes go to a microphilanthropy site and see whose life I can improve. Another favourite site is Kiva, which is a site that takes people from around the developing world who need assistance and provides them with loans. That’s right, not a gift, but what they need right then to get them back on their feet or on their way to a better life. You buy credit from Kiva, choose your person and their project, and loan them your chosen amount. They then pay it back over a period of months or years (and the default rate is absurdly small), and you then have that money to lend all over again.
So on a rainy, gloomy day where a myriad of tiny things had gone wrong, I headed over to Kiva to see if I could make the world a better place. I chose Hannah, a single mother of four in Kenya, who needed $175 to buy fertilizer to grow her crops and keep her children and herself out of poverty. My $25, when taken in context of what she needed, was not a small drop in the bucket anymore. And so in a little way, Hannah’s life is on the upturn and I feel like I’m helping society in a direct way.
If you want to join Kiva, click here and sign up. It’s $25 that will make you feel much better than that fifteenth sweater, I promise!
Lastly, consider Breakfast Clubs of Canada. You know what kids need to learn? Not iPads. Not the latest and greatest series of lessons or Baby Einsteins. They need food in their stomachs. And for a lot of kids, that’s not the given that it is for mine, who is wont to demand cranberries AND raisins AND almonds on her cereal. So if you want to make your own neighbourhood a better, safer, happier place for the kids, consider directing your money somewhere it will really impact the start of a six year old’s day.
So, inch by inch, life is a cinch. Yard by yard, it’s very hard. And I’m now spending my donation money in inches rather than yards, and I’m so much happier for it. Joe having warm fingers on a chilly January day and Hannah being able to raise crops and send her kids to school – that brings me joy in a way that giving to a large organization never could.
PS I’ve been advised to add that I was not compensated by anyone nor by any of the charities listed for this – just as an FYI!