As 2015 rolled to an end, you may have been inundated by requests for donations from charitable organizations. You may be making plans now about whom you’ll donate to in the new year or would if you could afford to contribute money at all. It is important to understand that “donating” doesn’t necessarily mean digging into your bank account. You may instead seek to contribute by taking action.
When I led a small group to meet with the Dalai Lama at his home in India a few years back, he told us that it is good to pray for peace. “But,” he added, “if that is all you do, it’s a waste of time. It may even be a distraction. You have to take appropriate daily action.” It strikes me that something similar can be said for donating money. It is great to give to good causes, but it is also important to act every day to support those causes—whether you give money to them or not.
Contributing to community, to the greater good, in whatever form is a blessed act and personally rewarding. But you might ask yourself: Where should I start? Here are a few of my thoughts:
Find a cause that fits your passions and that brings joy into your life. Whatever you do, it should be joy-filled. In the 1960s, the anti-war sit-ins and love-ins were successful because people wanted to go to those rallies and have fun while supporting a worthy cause. Today I so often see people get burned out because they take the immediate outcome too seriously. Of course it is a serious cause, but “serious” doesn’t have to equate to “tedious.” We are most successful when we follow our passions and celebrate the joy in them.
In my upcoming book The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (available in February), I devote several chapters to ideas for actions everyone can take to help bring about an environmentally sustainable and regenerative, socially just world where one group of people does not make other groups of people desperate. Ideas range from shopping and investing consciously to using social media to advance your causes, to joining movements and organizations that support the things you feel most passionate about, and much more. Movements you might want to support could include Move to Amend (Citizen’s United), the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, the Pachamama Alliance, Dream Change or others that appeal to you.
In telling a new story about how we can live in a sustainable and regenerative world, you can commit to taking actions every day that are as simple as calling people, sending emails that then get passed on to your lists and posting on Facebook, speaking at local venues such as a school, library or Rotary club, taking an online course in activism or getting out on the streets and demonstrating. Look inward, search your heart and call on your special skills—do what’s realistic for you.
If you don’t feel you can give money and an organization keeps asking for money, let them know that you’d like to support them in other ways. Ask for ideas about what else you can do to help.
If you can’t find a group that fits your passion, start your own. It’s so easy today to do something. Drafting a short email can have immense impact. For example you might craft one to a company saying “I love your products but I will no longer buy them until you _____(pay your workers a fair wage, stop using GMOs—fill in the blank with our passion),” and then send it out to all the people on your email lists and ask them to email the company and pass it along to everyone on their lists as well. Your actions will be worth it. There is power in numbers! The CEOs of many big corporations know they could be doing things better. If the corporations’ inboxes get flooded with emails telling them to change, the CEOs will be encouraged—even forced—to make the changes.
We can all be empowered by the many successful consumer movements we’ve seen recently. Three examples:
- Racially charged threats and actions against black students at the University of Missouri and a potential boycott by the football team resulted in the president and chancellor’s resignations;
- Rallies of students across the country demanding an end to student debts are shaking up university administrations;
- The backlash against businesses that had decided to open on Thanksgiving—instead of waiting for the next day, Black Friday—and the social media campaign to boycott them caused many businesses to reverse that decision. These included national chains like Lowe’s, Bed Bath and Beyond, Cabela’s and more.
While these examples are important in themselves, they also inspire others and have impacts that reach beyond the immediate goals. For example, the decision to open or close stores affects far more than a company’s bottom line; the joy employees feel at being able to stay home with loved ones is immeasurable—as is the process of transforming consumers’ shopping frenzies into a day focused on thankfulness.
Recognize that acting now is about your future and that of coming generations. Organizations we believe in need our money but they also need other forms of support. This is a great time to commit to taking actions that feed your passions and further the causes you respect.