There is something intrinsically human about helping people in need whether this entails a hefty donation to your favorite charity or giving your time to make positive changes in your community. While I would never discourage either the giving of money or time, perhaps we should examine how our money is being spent and how our time is being utilized.
First, let's start with our money. Our motivation, quite candidly, stems from the fact we all know someone with a horrible disease and have seen firsthand the negative consequences these disease cause and most of us have lost a loved one to such a disease. Or we identify a need in our society to protect the most vulnerable which include our children. According to Forbes, the top ten charities in the United States include three medical foundations claiming to support research development to combat specific diseases. The remaining attempt to fight homelessness, poverty, and protect children. So, what is wrong with supporting these organizations or the thousands of others that claim to foster programs to relieve these social and medical ailments? In regards to medical research, the vast majority of scientific breakthroughs in medicine and pharmaceutical science do not come from these organizations/foundations. In fact almost every major medical discovery was void of any connection with major charity organizations or medical foundations. Where did they come from? Universities throughout the United States and beyond. Even more alarming is these discoveries were often made by accident. You see, research is very methodical and planned; however, the conclusions often lead to surprising discoveries or at least new questions to ponder. It is rare that a scientist who focuses only on trying to undertake one type of cancer or other disease arrive at the answer. The odds of this happening are slim. So, what are your donation dollars doing when they are sent to medical or health non-profit organizations? Well, they simply fund awareness and prevention campaigns. This is surely not a bad thing, but you should remember your dollars are unlikely going to find a cure. If you are looking to help change the world by donating your dollars to an organization that may truly make a difference by developing a cure to a specific disease, consider donating to your favorite research institution or university. Sadly those performing the research are struggling to secure every dime and would be grateful for your support. Unfortunately, this is difficult to do understanding the current grant process universities employ. If only there was an organization to match researchers with potential donors.
What about those organizations that serve and protect children, the elderly and the homeless? While I would argue these organizations utilize their donors' money in more critical ways, giving money may not be the best way to serve these groups. This is where I advocate we need more people to serve with their time. However, try giving your time to smaller, local organizations versus large national and multinational groups. The advantage to giving your time (or even money) to smaller groups is simply they are typically more effective at helping out with specific problems affecting your community. Further, they are often run by all volunteer boards with little or no operating costs and have a more targeted focus. These organizations thrive on altruistic giving and I can't think of a better way to truly "get involved" than to see the child or homeless individual you are helping be served by your efforts. Also, consider other ways of giving that many often forget about or dismiss as something they could not do. One such example is foster parenting. In 2010 463,000 children lived in foster homes. There is a critical need for foster care parents and while this will not be right for everyone, perhaps this rewarding role is right for you. Lastly, be politically active in your community. Too many Politicians get elected in local races that truly don't reflect the values of their constituents. This is because voter turnout ratios for local elections often reflect less than 15% of the population. So, stay active and vote for social and economic programs that will protect and serve the underserved in our society.
Let me just reiterate that giving of any kind is a positive action and I do not aim to discourage this activity. I do encourage more people to be engaged and understand what and how their money or time is being used for. Lastly, be cautious of national religious organizations as many of these groups consistently end up on the "worst charities" list because they endure excessively high administrative costs. Now, get out and serve your community!