What Makes You Cry?
When it comes to figuring out who will get my charitable donations, my criteria is pretty basic: If you make me cry, I open my wallet.
My rationale is this: If something moves me that deeply, then I know it is a cause that is in line with my values. Years ago, while nursing my newborn daughter, I watched an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show dedicated to the conflict in Congo and the use of rape as a weapon of war. As I looked down at my newborn daughter, my heart filled with pain and anger as I thought of the challenges faced by women raising daughters in a place where they have such little value.
Toward the end of the episode, as I grabbed yet another Kleenex, a woman named Zainab Salbi spoke about her organization Women for Women International, which helps female survivors of war learn job skills that enable them to support their families. I immediately signed up to sponsor one of these women, and since 2004 I’ve helped nine women in Africa and Bosnia move toward financial independence. In 2010 I participated in the charity’s “Run for Congo Women,” running my first 5K and raising more than $1,000. Both were singular accomplishments.
The financial donations and the fundraising were empowering for me. They helped me take those tears of sympathy and turn them into tools for change.
The joy of giving is a fabulous feeling to have. But sometimes it can be hard to know where you should donate your time, money and talents. You can adopt my “if you make me cry” philosophy or you can try one of these other strategies for finding your perfect charitable match.
Who Has Helped You?
After Superstorm Sandy walloped my community, Team Rubicon and Doctors Without Borders was among the first organizations to come in to help clean out, demolish and rebuild. Now whenever a similar tragedy hits around the world, I send them a check because I have seen firsthand the great work they do and how well they do it.
Firsthand experience with a charity is a great way to know how and where to give. When Keren Fitzgerald’s 3-year-old son Cole was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, she turned to Alex’s Lemonade Stand for an understanding of the diagnosis. There she found a medical dictionary, resources on treatment options and specialists and connection with other families facing the same devastating disease. These resources help her carry her through Cole’s treatment and, despite remission, his future challenges.
“We wanted to be part of the solution so childhood cancer becomes a nightmare of the past,” says Fitzgerald. Her family fundraises year round for Alex’s Lemonade, helping raise money that is used to find a cure for childhood cancer.
Honor a Memory
Tara Zraunig’s Grandpa Dutch and Grandpa Doody served in the military during World War II and the Korean War. Her father served in Vietnam.
“All three came back alive and well,” she says. “They were the lucky ones. However, there are some that were not so lucky and need a little help from us.” So in memory of her family’s history of military service, Zraunig gives to Disabled American Veterans.
Is there an organization that was near and dear to a loved one’s heart? If your mother enjoyed opera, give to her favorite concert hall. If your grandfather loved his alma mater, give to its alumni organization.
Think About a Career Tie-in
Mira Dessy is a nutrition educator and author of “The Pantry Principle,” so contributing to Healthy Child Healthy World is a logical way to support a charity that shares her commitment to protecting children from harmful toxic exposures.
If you’re a doctor, consider donating to your hospital’s charitable foundation. If you’re a lawyer, donate to your local legal defense fund. Or even better — do what Allison Rimm does and donate your time to someone who could use your expertise. Rimm, a longtime executive and business coach, uses her business experience to help her favorite charity grow.
“Investing a few dollars in Our Space would buy art supplies and help kids have a great experience,” she says. “Investing a few hours in teaching its founders how to start an organization helps countless numbers of kids get all kinds of services and enables the founders to stretch and grow and service in boundless ways forever.”
Ken Rupert and his family support their local food pantry and make donations through their church that go toward helping families in their neighborhood who are going through challenging times.
Find out if your local civic group or church is hosting food or clothing drives. Support your local hospital when it’s holding a fundraiser. Call your local school and see if you can volunteer to talk to students during career day. Or visit DonorsChoose.org and type in your ZIP Code. You’ll get a list of projects in or near your community that teachers need help funding. A quick search for my neighborhood brought up requests for helping buy puppets for drama class, an iPad for ESL students and supplies for a chemistry lab. For 7 other sites that help you give locally, click here.
Listen Around You
The needs are great. So great, and so constant in fact, that I believe we’ve learned how to turn a deaf ear to them. When the pledge drive starts on public television, we switch the channel. When Wikipedia asks us to donate $3, we scan our eyes down the page, again. A friend sends a request to sponsor her in a walk-a-thon and we say, “I’ll get to that later” — but never do.
Think about the important experiences you have every day and then find a way to give, be it your money, time or talent.