Choosing charities

When I decided to be grateful to non-profits for five days, I was faced with the challenge of determining which organizations to support.or

As it happens, I had an immediate sense of which organizations to highlight and in what order to highlight them in. I was surprised by how quickly I made this decision, but I also had a lot of doubts.

My list includes no public health organizations. No cancer research, no domestic abuse prevention, no mental health support. Those are important issues.

My list includes no civil rights organizations – organizations which fight for social justice, sure – but, no organizations explicitly and solely focused on civil rights. That work is desperately important.

My list includes no environmental or animal rights organizations. That work’s important, too.

And only one organization on my list – the last I got to – works on issues of extreme, global poverty – arguably the first cause a person ought to care about. After all, isn’t saving a life more important that improving a life?

I rather felt that I should debate the merits of each organizations and each type of work before making a final determination on which I should highlight.

But just the thought of that made me exhausted.

I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Why not just do it? So I followed my plan and implemented my instinct, but the whole time I wondered if that was Right.

I still don’t have the answers and I still don’t have the energy, but it feels like an important question to keep asking.

I like to support organizations in my immediate community. I like to support organizations whose work I can engage in. I like to support organizations which are terribly small and woefully under resourced. Organizations which could never afford to have me on their staff.

And maybe that is wrong. Maybe that’s not ideal. Maybe I should give all my money to Oxfam or another aid organization. Maybe I should worry first only about saving a life.


As much as that sounds right, it doesn’t feel right.

That work is important. But this work is important. So much work is important.

There is too much, too much, wrong in the world to only focus on one issue. I can’t solve all the world’s problems, but I can try to chip away at a few. And that work is important.

I am reminded of a story someone once told me about a young man who met the Buddha. The young man argued that he shouldn’t give away his money, that he should use it to improve his station, thereby allowing him to give more money in the future.

Perhaps, the Buddha replied. But the people need it now.

Humanitarian work is critically important. We should all give to support that work as much as possible.

But we can’t do just that. We can’t ignore the other suffering in the world. We can’t turn our backs on those who are ‘well-off’ only because they are not dying. We can’t do it all, but we can do what we can.

The work is important, and the people need it now.


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