For a school project, I'm helping a local mental health center apply for a grant. In looking through grants, I was struck by how many of them are for very specific demographics.
This foundation only funds projects in the northeastern US. That one only funds projects that serve people with paralysis. Why so specific? Because the founders were from those demographics. They wanted to help people like them. A lot of charitable giving works this way. Disease foundations do major fundraising from people with that illness and from their relatives.
Now, I can see how this problem selection makes sense if you're doing some kind of direct service. If I were going to a support group, I would want help from someone who had been in my situation. But the nice thing about money is that it works the same no matter who gives it. You don't have to have personally experienced another person's affliction to help ease it.
I had epilepsy as a child. When I hear about a kid with epilepsy, I do feel that squeeze of recognition, the memory of what it was like for me. I'm sure the Epilepsy Foundation would love to get my donation to help "people like me".
But I'd like to see a redefinition of who is "like me."
I've never starved, never experienced chronic pain, never watched people die around me. I can't know exactly what it feels like to have those experiences, but I have a guess. It sucks that other people are sick or hungry or oppressed, like it sucked for me to have epilepsy.
When I give, I want to help people like me. People with human loves, dreams, and hurts. We don't have to have the same problems. We're still kin.