On my journey of giving, I’ve experienced a tug of war with treating symptoms or going to the root problem. When I think of a doctor, while she treats the symptoms, she quickly addresses the root cause. Both are critical. But when I dream about a world with less pain and more hope, I’m hyperfocused on addressing root causes.
However, discovering root causes and addressing them takes more time, more collaboration and more influence. It’s like the game at the summer fair, you whack one mole down in his hole and just as quickly another pops up. Let’s just get rid of the moles!
In my giving, intervention has mapped at four levels:
The first often gets the most press: giving to alleviate immediate problems, like relief aid, provisional care for those who need a cup of cold water. This giving however is often short term and if not given smartly can actually set the receiver back.
So we may give more strategically and look for ways to empower the receiver, so that he will take better care of herself/her family. Gifts towards education, job training, and micro lending help the person begin to build a more sustainable lifestyle. But even at that, we often realize, the environment or culture is not hospitable to her.
So, we might seek to intervene by strengthening the organizations whose mission it is to alleviate suffering, so that they can do more. Most people prefer to fund projects. Capacity grants aren’t popular. Without the capacity to administer funds received, the project grant may not be wisely applied. Capacity grants can help an organization give, monitor and sharpen their reach.
Most people prefer to fund projects.
If we keep pressing into “why?” we often reach the point of giving to address systemic issues. The desire is to take time to evaluate, research the true root cause. A business school tactic is to ask “why” 5 times until you reach the root of the situation. This level of giving is often harder to fund, because it takes time and has a higher risk of failure because it charters new waters. Gifts to research organizations, think tanks, and policy/media/legal reform charities are meant to influence a society through new insights and reforms.
Which level sounds the most like you? This can provide an insight into where you may want to get involved.