The bulk of my posts over the last few days have focused on people with relative degrees of privilege who are wringing their hands over the election and want some sort of hopefully meaningful guidance on how to apply their worries in an efficient way. This post is especially so, because not everyone has money to throw around — and some people have even less, because they are saving up in the event of an emergency that might require a rapid outlay of cash. For those who do have financial resources, there are a ton of different ways to direct them, and none of them are specifically bad (unless you’re donating to a terrible organisation or bad charity), but some may give you a better bang for your buck.
If you are in a position to donate money anywhere, your first stop should be your work. Does your employer offer matching donations? Why not, if they don’t? Is there a limit? Are they restricted to certain organizations? If your company offers matching grants, it’s a good idea to take advantage of them. If they restrict donations and the available options make you uncomfortable, ask them to consider expanding the list.
If you don’t have access to matching funds through your job, check out charitable organizations you care about that have challenge or matching grants at various points during the year. Right now, for example, Cat Town, a Bay Area charity that does fantastic cat rescue work, has a challenge grant that will double your money if you donate, making it a really great time to do that thing. Cat Town provides services to cats with complex needs that might otherwise be euthanised, including cats that need a little more socialising to be adoptable, older cats, FIV+ cats, and cats with other underlying medical conditions. Their work has helped cut the kill rate at Oakland Animal Services, which is pretty great. If you think donating money to cats isn’t a great use of your funds right now, that’s fine, but remember that in times of political and financial stress, many people are forced to surrender their animals because they lose their homes or the ability to care for their pets, and it is pretty devastating to be forced to turn your animal over for probably euthanasia, which is why groups like Cat Town are so important.
Many big-name national charities that are doing super important work are being circulated as good places to put your money, including NARAL Pro-Choice America, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Transgender Law Center, Lambda Legal, the Southern Poverty Law Center, GLAAD, CAIR, the Anti-Defamation League, the National Immigration Law Center, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Black Lives Matter, and the National Disability Rights Network, among many others. All of these organisations are great places to put your money, providing direct services, legal assistance, and support for a range of people.
BUT. There’s another entity that could really use your money: Your community, or a low-income community somewhere near you. During times of economic and political hardship, small community groups get hit hard, losing a lot of their donors. You can help keep them alive and ensure that they continue to be able to provide services to people who need them more than ever. That can include organizations like the National Network of Abortion Funds, which helps people pay for abortion services, or state offices of various national organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. But it can also involve groups that I can’t conveniently list off for you because there are so many communities in the United States, with so many organisations, that an entire website might begin to scratch the surface, but that’s about it, and many of them need to be vetted.
So pick a cause or three that are important to you and look within your community to see who is doing the work. Research a bit. Yes, this takes time. You want to make sure that your money will be well used. Many communities have food banks, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centres, independent living centres, and the like, all of which need funds. Your community may have resources like a group that helps people access health care, or legal advice, or immigration services. You probably have a free and low-cost community clinic, or there’s one nearby. Support direct services on the ground that immediately benefit people in critical need who cannot afford to wait.
We need the big picture organisations and they will use your money well. But for every pending litigation or growing lists of plaintiffs for a major civil rights case, there are people who need help right now who are suffering and relying on help from local groups for everything from buying shoes so their children can go to school to assisting them with immigration paperwork. And if you don’t have money, many of these organisations can benefit from your time, especially if you have marketable skills. Bilingual people are often incredibly helpful. Depending on the organization, your medical or legal training could be helpful. Instead of taking a service trip to the Global South to provide eye care this year, why not stay at home and run a clinic one weekend a month for low-income residents? Volunteer to teach self-defense, look after children while people are in meetings, reorganise an office, or help with construction projects. This doesn’t just help local groups. It also helps you connect with your community, learn more about its needs, and participate in strategies to protect the most vulnerable residents of your area.
And that’s pretty great.