Photo: Loren Baxter, San Francisco
I was discussing charitable giving habits with a friend of mine and she said “giving locally just seems selfish and ineffective when you consider our relative wealth and well-being compared with developing nations”. On many levels, I agree with her. Your dollar will likely go ‘further’ in resourcing the world’s poor if you give to, say, Red Cross International, as compared to the American Red Cross. However, I think a global reference point must include some important caveats.
Giving locally is critical for resourcing the often forgotten communities at our society’s margins, which are greatly in need but unknown to the mainstream. Empathy is built through contact, which helps us identify with universal struggles and spurns a desire for an inclusive and just society for all. It is easy to overlook the rampant dehumanization and poverty in our own backyard.
Choosing to direct personal resources towards close-to-home realities can be uncomfortable because it reveals just how far our city or country is from being a place of “liberty and justice for all”. Yet, investing in changing these inequities is also deeply healing as it builds bridges across the economic and social siloes that created those disparities in the first place.
I learned this lesson accidentally over the last few years. I wanted to give to organizations that were advancing climate justice and fighting gentrification. Two of the nonprofits doing powerful work on these fronts were Movement Generation and Causa Justa Just Cause (CJJC). Both of these organizations are local to my home — the Bay Area.
I learned that when you give to an organization, a relationship emerges. It may be ephemeral or superficial, but that thread can be the beginning of something more sustaining. My relationship with CJJC started with a $10 donation that I didn’t think much about. Ten bucks and a click could have been the extent of my interaction with them, as is the case with so many other causes I’ve given to. But through that otherwise forgettable transaction, a nudge to think a bit more broadly occurred.
I became increasingly conscious of each homeless person I passed on Mission Street and the unmarked white tech commuter buses on my block. I became more connected to my home, through CJJC’s stories and their events — seeing directly how their actions to defend and strengthen tenant rights enabled my neighbors, who had been there decades before me, were able to remain in their homes. Even though my capacity to give was relatively low, that action created a bridge to their politics, the lived experience of their constituents, and their vision. Instead of feeling (only) guilt-ridden and calloused about my role fueling displacement by living in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco (a hotbed of gentrification), I felt compassion, agency, and hope.
CJJC became a thought leader for me — an organization that I turn to for bold, yet nuanced, analysis of the fraught issue of the housing in the Bay Area. During a time when bridging siloes of community, class, and race is imperative to fight threats to the planet, marginalized communities, and freedom of information, relationships are the seeds of liberation.
Your giving is going to have a greater ‘impact’ in developing countries. It will always be critically important to redistribute wealth to nations who have fewer financial resources. We must recognize that part of the reason they suffer is because of our relative accumulation of wealth at their expense. However, I believe we must also increase our conscience and consciousness in our own communities, particularly as the divide between philanthropists and local nonprofits in the Bay Area grows wider both culturally and economically. How might we recognize the indirect impacts we are having in our own backyard and, instead of responding with guilt and shrugs, respond with a deeper commitment to support affected communities? Given that people are more likely to give after they have volunteered (56% more), how might we better link giving and acting locally?
Ultimately, giving is about relationships. When you give, you create a relationship between yourself and the people, the ideas, and the movements you are supporting. Giving is a way to become awakened to the human suffering directly around us and nurture our role in tending to that suffering. As we approach the end-of-year giving season, I urge you to consider: who are the communities often overlooked or less financially resourced in your city? What are the organizations building the political and economic power of those communities? And, most importantly, how do you want to support those organizations with your hands and heart?
Giving is a muscle that needs to be flexed or we lose the practice. Think of it as exercising your compassion and humanity, and try that practice right now, where you live.
For those in the Bay Area, check out the Blue Heart Grassroots Giving Guide for our list of under-resourced, local organizations to give to.