my new coffee cup.

This morning I set out to research fashion for a cause. I’m a big fan of Toms shoe project, and I thought what a great blog entry it would make to feature a lot of different similar fashion projects. Little did I know that I was setting myself up for a couple of hours of frustrated searching with very unsatisfactory results.

Apparently fashion just isn’t very charitable… at least not in a way that I find trustworthy.

I was prepared to toss the whole subject and write about my new coffee cup instead, (I decided to still feature it anyway, I thought it was cruel to dash its dreams of stardom), when a more rationally thinking friend suggested that I write about the lack of worthy causes as an alternative.

I am an instant gratification kind of girl. I like to have whatever I’ve invested in in my hands immediately, and I feel the same way about giving… I want to know that whatever I’m giving to, that investment is going directly to that cause. I don’t really want to give to raise awareness, I want to give to solve a problem. This is what I like about Toms shoes. It’s straight forward: you buy a pair of shoes and a pair is donated to a child. There’s none of this “a percentage of the proceeds go towards raising awareness for this particular problem because if people are aware somehow magically the problem will be solved.”

I feel as though at this point it’s quite clear that being aware of, even being educated about, a particular problem doesn’t make the problem any less of a problem. I think it’s safe to say that all american adults are aware of the fact that there are people starving, not only in other countries, but in our own country. How close are we to solving that problem?

It might sound harsh of me, but I have no desire to donate funds to projects that just raise awareness. I have no desire to donate funds to projects that give a percentage (those percentages rarely amount to more than half the money raised) to those in need. I have no desire to donate funds to an organization in which I can’t really see how those funds are directly helping those in need.

There are several problems I see with organization that work off of models that involve percentages or raising awareness. The first is simply that it’s difficult knowing if you can trust them or not. I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t necessarily trust the whole system of “you give money to me, which I then take a portion of and give to them, and then who knows what really happens to it.”  In these cases it’s really difficult to know if your money is ever actually getting to the people who need it, and I’m not comfortable with that. The second is what I’ve already mentioned about “raising awareness”. Honestly, what does that really mean? Seriously, take a moment to think about it. Third, and most importantly in my opinion, is that donating through these systems doesn’t really connect you to the problem at hand, and I think that connection is key to working towards making an impact on some of these problems.

Putting on a pair of Toms shoes and knowing that because you have that pair of shoes, so does someone else, and that may be the only pair of shoes they have, feels quite different than handing off a sum of money to one person, who’s going to hand part of it off to someone else. This is where real awareness begins. I think it’s important to make that direct connection, I think that direct connection makes you a little more aware of what’s going on around you, I think it moves you to really see the people around you, and inspires you to do something. When you realize that a child in a country far away from you is wearing a pair of shoes because of you, I think it makes you more likely to notice that the kids across the street from you don’t have shoes either, and you want to do something about that too. When you don’t know what your donation is doing for someone else, or when you aren’t given the opportunity to have that tangible reminder, the connection is lost.

This brings me to my other problem with a lot of charitable organizations. I understand that there are a lot of people who need a lot of things all over the world, but when I can, I really like to support organizations that work on a local level, or at least do both.  What does it say to the child living in poverty in the run down apartments across from me, if I’m willing to help another child thousands of miles away, but not him? I believe that poverty is poverty, and I believe that giving at a local level impacts the community, which impacts the nation, which impacts the world. If we, as individuals are only reaching out, I feel like our efforts are only at half-mast. Do you think kids raised in a nation that cared more about meeting the needs of people far away are going to feel at all inspired to be people who give to their community? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t seek to impact other nations, but I have a problem when that’s all we’re doing.

To put this very long entry to an end, if you know of reliable charities or organizations like Toms shoes, please email me their information because I would love to feature them here.