It’s easy enough to say that you want to make the world a better place, but what is the best way to do that, and how can you make sure that your efforts aren’t squandered or even inadvertently offensive? Here are a few tips for making an impact wisely and effectively.
Choose Your Cause
For a lot of people, the cause that they want to work on will be one that’s close to their heart: Perhaps you have a loved one with a terminal disease and want to help find a cure, or maybe a natural disaster has struck somewhere you’ve visited and loved and you want to help the people there to rebuild. This is a natural way to begin focusing your efforts, but keep in mind that you might be able to make a bigger impact if you work with a cause that isn’t the first one to come to mind. For instance, while supporting the fight against cancer is a good and important goal, supporting a group that’s fighting malaria can have a huge impact right now, literally saving lives for just a few dollars.
Find the Right Group
Once you’ve figured out what cause you want to fight for, look for reputable groups already doing the sort of work you have in mind. Usually, you won’t need to start your own organization, and there’s no sense in duplicating someone else’s efforts when they already have experience working in their area of focus.
Ask, Don’t Tell
One of the best ways to squander your time and effort or even cause offense is to assume that you know what’s best for those you want to help. Never assume that you know what they need: Ask them what they want you to do before diving in. For example, after a natural disaster, often, people will want to clean out their closets and pantries and send clothes and food to the victims, but this isn’t always the best idea: Often, aid groups will have a hard time managing the logistics of distributing these items, and they may not be what’s most needed on the ground in the disaster zone. Instead, it’s best to donate cash, so relief organizations can spend it on what the victims need most and perhaps even support businesses near the affected area, helping them to recover more quickly.
Also, remember that being an ally isn’t a badge of honor: It’s a job to be done, and the job is ongoing. If you’ve decided to put your efforts toward social justice, using your privilege to help others who are at a disadvantage in society, remember that this isn’t your struggle and it’s not about you. Don’t take over, marginalizing those who you’re supposed to be helping while bolstering your own ego. Take a step back and listen. Listen to those who you want to advocate for, and ask them what, if anything, would be the best way for you to help them.