In the months leading up to the presidential election, and especially since November 2016, Americans have shown a newfound enthusiasm for happenings in the political sphere. Regardless of where you land politically, it’s undeniable that there’s been a groundswell of support for non-governmental organizations of all kinds — and this sort of indignance-inspired support even has a name. “Rage giving,” or the act of donating to any organization under threat due to current political policy, is on the rise.
And it seems like now more than ever, Americans are paying attention to every piece of news that pops up on our iPhones, in our emails and on the TV news tickers. This newfound political engagement is brilliant — yes, people! But there is a downside to caring about every single thing that happens politically: In many cases, it can diminish your ability to commit to one big act and make an impact.
Here’s how to ensure that doesn’t happen:
Find a cause that you care about and stick to it.
It’s OK if you find yourself activated by many causes — women’s rights, refugee rights, environmental protections, education, arts funding — because right now, many of these programs and topics appear vulnerable. It’s certainly important to keep yourself informed and up-to-date on the issues you care deeply about. But keeping track of every little policy change that occurs can be exhausting … and it’s inevitable (and normal) to experience burnout.
Plus, jumping on a political bandwagon in the heat of the moment can actually be detrimental to the causes you do deeply care about. Whether you like it or not, getting involved in every single political cause can hurt your credibility to outside viewers.
Instead of setting up a million Google Alerts and signing up for 42 different non-profit email newsletters, target your focus to one topic in particular and become a specialist in that area. You’ll still feel engaged in the political conversation, but having a clear focus will help you decide exactly how to act in a way that is useful and helpful.
As a second-generation American, I found myself wondering how different my life would be if my grandparents hadn’t been brave enough to come to the United States 70 years ago; the stories I heard about refugees around the world deeply affected me and I couldn’t help but get emotional when I thought about the unjust treatment so many humans experience as they’re forced from their homes and into refugee status. Plus, I live in Los Angeles, a sanctuary city that’s deeply affected by immigration policy changes on a fiscal and emotional level — so it was easy to narrow my focus to refugee rights and immigration.
You’ll still feel engaged in the political conversation, but having a clear focus will help you decide exactly how to act in a way that is useful and helpful.
Research, research, research.
Once you discover your “thing” — that topic that lights a fire within you and inspires you to act — start doing your research.
Find reputable non-governmental organizations and nonprofits that align with your belief system; give.org and charitynavigator.org are great places to start if you have an idea of what you’re looking for, but aren’t quite sure which organization is right for you.
When I looked, I found there were tons of incredible not-for-profits I’d never heard of that helped refugees in the United States or abroad. But none had the reach or impact of The International Rescue Committee (IRC), an organization founded by Albert Einstein to help people whose lives are shattered by conflict and disaster to, “survive, recover, and regain control of their future.”
Then, look for foundations and nonprofits that invest the bulk of their funding in their cause (whether it be building water wells in Africa or feeding homeless on the streets of LA), and spend a small amount of capital on full-time staff and operations. When I found that The IRC spends just eight percent of their yearly revenue on marketing and operations, I knew that I’d found a non-profit with integrity. Plus, I loved that the IRC worked with refugees through their entire journey, from the minute they seek shelter in a new country to well after they’ve been relocated to a safer, permanent location — and that I could volunteer to work with people in-person as well as raise money to support the IRC.
Become an advocate for your cause.
Once I started working with the IRC, I realized that one of the best ways I could support refugees was by becoming an advocate for them in my community. What does that mean? Basically, learn everything that you possibly can about your cause and educate your friends, family and acquaintances.
In some ways, devoting yourself to advocacy and education can be even more important than volunteering in the field. If you show that you care deeply about a cause and can talk about why it’s important to you with grace, humility and fact-based statements, you’re far more likely to start an open dialogue with someone who may not agree with your stance.
For me, it was empowering to feel confident saying that more than half the world’s refugees are children — not adult men. Or to know that in 2015, 134,044 refugees submitted applications to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and of that number, 25 percent were survivors of torture and other types of violence — proof that they absolutely needed to flee their countries in order to live.
Citing these types of objective facts might potentially change someone’s perspective on an issue and are far more effective than a snarky comment or an emotionally charged response.
Financially support the organizations you care about.
And the more you learn about your cause, the more you’ll find yourself invested in it and more likely to stick to it long-term. Many nonprofits have seen an uptick in donations over the past few months, which is great news for this fiscal year. But as excitement and passions wane, these organizations have real worries that newfound advocates will fall off over time. Committing to one or two nonprofits means that you can comfortably offer financial support to the causes you care deeply about. Recurring gifts from caring supporters really make a difference.
At the end of the day, it’s most important to remain persistent. Our political climate goes through volatile changes daily. By finding a single cause that you love and throwing your full support behind it, you can make a huge impact.
Which nonprofit or cause are you most passionate about?
Images via Mujgan Ozceylan