2nd September 2007

Do you put your money where your heart is?

Get involvedI have a large circle of family and close friends, all of whom are used to my frequent (and sometimes unusual) questions and solicitations for their opinion. Sometimes I’m surprised by their answers, other times not so much. My latest round of calls and emails to them was spurred by a sentence – just a few words, really.

I’m an avid reader of Newsweek, albeit a bit behind since my busy schedule means that my magazines pile up until I have time to sit and read, although I do try to keep up. Recently I was reading the Letters to the Editor, and in the comments about letters received in response to a story they did recently on the slaughter of Silverback Gorillas in Africa, I was struck by just a few words from one anguished reader – …”After getting no sleep last night, the first thing I did was join the Nature Conservancy”…

Out of all the letters they received, apparently only one indicated that the writer was moved to action. Granted the likelihood is great that many others were moved to action and only one wrote about it, or that a number of them wrote about it, but only one so eloquently as to receive mention. But it made me wonder…..

So I asked a large number of people two questions: 1) Are there issues or causes that you deeply care about or that concern you? and 2) What do you do about it (them)? What I was curious to know is, generally speaking, how prevalent is participation? Do people care about issues and then donate time, money, or effort to help effect change or support causes? Or do they assume that enough others will, and so remain complacent?

After quite a bit of back and forth with more questions and answers, I was, on this occasion, surprised by the results:

  • While nearly 100% admitted to caring deeply about the environment, only 20% joined an environmental organization or donated to those that work to offset carbon emissions;
  • 85% felt strongly about a current political candidate, but only 5% of those had donated to their preferred candidate’s campaign fund;
  • Roughly 40% listen to public radio, but of those only 5% donate to their local public station;
  • 50% of those I asked said that they are concerned about the plight of refugees in war-torn regions, but only 10% of that 50% gave any support to organizations such as the Red Cross who are working to help those regions
  • Everyone admitted to feeling some level of concern over the problem of poverty and homelessness in our own country, but only 1% volunteered time to local shelters or missions, and only 2% donated money to charities that help the homeless

It seems that while everyone cares about something, and often a number of things, only a small few feel compelled to get involved. So naturally this got me wondering even more….why would people not get involved?

It turns out that it’s not a simple answer, but most often what I heard was that there is SO much to care about that it gets overwhelming. A number of people were concerned that if they start giving, they will get inundated with requests from a number of worthy causes, and at what point are you forced to say “no” to stay solvent? I know from experience this is a valid concern – I do give a few dollars here and there to several organizations, support my local public radio station, and even donate to political campaigns, and my mailbox is now full of requests for help. It does get overwhelming. And it is very hard to say “no” sometimes, to decide who gets something and who doesn’t.

My belief is that you have to stay focused – pick one or two causes or issues that you really, deeply care about, and do what you reasonably can for them. Encourage your teens to at least be aware of what issues the world faces, so that they can grow into compassionate, caring adults (I urge caution with younger children though, who can develop anxiety over exposure to the often troubling nature of many issues).

Stay tuned for my next post……an open plea to fund-raising organizations, who aren’t always doing right by the organizations they raise dollars for…….

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