I have so many friends who are raising money for different causes. While I want to help out, I don’t have unlimited funds, and I don’t want to play favorites by only giving to some friends and not others. Is there a way I can mindfully choose which charities and friends to donate to? I want to ensure that I’m making a difference and also that my friends don’t feel snubbed if I don’t choose “their” cause.
— Bleeding Heart
Dear Bleeding Heart,
This is a tricky problem — but not a bad one — to have! The good news: Time and again, research has shown that giving to others increases your happiness, and donating to charity is a great way to do that. That said, people feel best when they’re giving freely. Donating because you’re feeling backed into a corner negates any goodwill you might have felt by giving to a cause.
Name and commit to your cause
I’d suggest a twofold approach. First, choose a charity or two that means a lot to you, and decide on ways that you will commit to giving to them throughout the year. This can be in the form of volunteering, giving money to them through one-off or automatic donations, or even asking friends to donate to that charity on your behalf on your birthday, or if you’re raising money through a run or a walk.
Give freely — by sticking to one rule
Next, decide on a set amount to donate to the causes that are important to your friends. This can be any amount you feel comfortable with, even as little as $5. The key is to keep it consistent across the board for everyone you care about and their causes. You can even explain to them that you’ve already set aside money for the organizations that are personally most important to you, but that you always give this amount to friends’ fundraising efforts.
Allow for exceptions
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should donate to a cause that’s vehemently against your beliefs. But there may be a lot of times that a friend is raising money for an inherently “good” cause — but one that you wouldn’t go out of your way to actively raise funds for. For example, what if you’re passionate about helping other humans, while a friend is asking everyone to donate money to an organization that works with rescue pups? In these cases, think of the money you’re giving as a way to show the people in your life how important they are to you.
Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia who researches how time, money, and technology shape human happiness. She is also the scientific advisor for Happy Money, a financial company that combines psychology and money to help people live happier lives. Have a question for Liz? Write her at email@example.com and check back every Tuesday for her next column.