Sunday, April 15, 2012

Just like me

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.

1 comment:

  1. This is not exactly about your topic, but I feel that I wish my charity to be helpful to the maximum number of folks worldwide, to rise toward my level of health and wellness! so I am sending this letter to all my past charities:

    Dear most-valued non-profit:
    You folks do awesome work in the world. For many years, I have enjoyed supporting that work with annual charitable contributions. I have even enjoyed often reading news about your successes against frequent human depredations and general depreciation of our social and environmental systems.

    Over those many years, my interest has expanded and my focus has broadened until I find myself spread too thin. I contribute to dozens of good causes like yours. I believe in all of them, and in you.

    This year I am narrowing my focus and reducing my connections to the world of charity, without reducing my impact. Starting today, I will give the same amount annually, but to the one organization which, to me, seems positioned to make the greatest positive change for humanity. Please allow me to elaborate (in their words):

    * Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related illness.
    * Diarrhea remains the second leading cause of death among children under five globally. Nearly one in five child deaths – about 1.5 million each year – is due to diarrhea. It kills more young children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
    * Women spend 200 million hours a day collecting water.
    * More than 3x more people lack water than live in the United States.
    * The majority of illness is caused by fecal matter.
    * More people have a mobile cell phone than a toilet.
    * Lack of community involvement causes 50% of other projects to fail.
    "At mycharity:water,100% of your donation will directly fund freshwater projects in developing nations. Just $20 can give one person clean, safe drinking water."

    Therefore, please remove me from your database, so that fewer resources will be wasted sending me annual or monthly notices. I can still find you online, and I will still be supporting your work in non-monetary ways.
    Thanks for all that you do!

    Lee Garner