This Giving Tuesday, your social media feeds were probably filled with friends sharing their generous donations and imploring you to contribute to their charity du jour. But is giving getting in the way of real change?
After all, flashes of philanthropy such as Giving Tuesday are little more than a drop in the bucket when it comes to actually tackling the critical issues. And at its worst, philanthropy can act as a Band-Aid solution to those problems while simultaneously ameliorating the impulse to fight those battles. Some of our most pressing concerns — vast inequality, deadly diseases, environmental degradation — aren’t likely to be solved by chump change donations, but by major political shifts. It’s enough for some to decide we don’t need philanthropy — we need a revolution.
But the question to ask is which option we need right now. Paradigmatic political shifts take a lot longer than writing a check or typing credit card numbers. Despite recent victories for those championing an egalitarian overhaul of the United States, the conclusion of the final 2018 electoral race in Mississippi should remind us that we are still a long way from realizing the revolution that Bernie Sanders popularized more than two years ago.
While we wait for this revolution to arrive by way of turtle, our most urgent challenges aren’t waiting. As wealthy citizens of economically advanced nations debate the efficacy of various solutions, millions across the globe languish in poverty, malnourishment and sickness. During the revolution’s long incubation period, philanthropy can meet some of our most pressing needs.
Dr. William MacAskill is an Oxford professor who researches “effective altruism,” an effort to use scientific and logical rigor to determine how an individual can most positively impact their world, from going vegetarian to running for office. By his metrics, one of the most influential actions for Americans — among the wealthiest sliver of the global population — is to maximize their giving potential. Given the vastly unequal distribution of global resources, philanthropy can be one of the most useful options the average American has to offer. Giving strategically to charities with proven capacities for making a difference is an extremely reliable way to address the world’s direst dilemmas.Comment on this story
Make no mistake: Our economic and political systems are in need of some major changes that philanthropic work can’t achieve. But I work in government. I know a little about the speed of change. It can take me days to secure approval for a two-sentence Facebook post. But that doesn’t mean I or anyone else should sit idle and ignore other options.
Charitable giving can be an impactful — if imperfect — way to address important issues. A political revolution, on the other hand, is an inefficient way to alleviate the suffering of billions of people, not to mention animals, environments and other worthy causes. So unless you’re planning on completing a global revolution before the new year, you might as well donate in the meantime.
Our altruistic efforts shouldn’t stop at charitable donations, but they should start there.