The world engages in more charity now than any other time in history, and the trend of self-education on social issues is a positive force we should encourage. The average person is willing not only to lend their support to causes and educate themselves – but also to open their wallets to back something they believe in.

However, it’s not enough to just research these causes or learn about issues. In order to ensure you get the maximum benefit out of what you give, you need to act like a business or a charity. It might seem like overkill for just one person, but if everyone were to take their giving as seriously as large organisations do then it would have a much greater effect.

In April 2020, monthly signups for charitable donations fell by 54% compared with the same month last year. In this difficult time it’s more important than ever to give to charity.

The advantage of a giving strategy

With over 1.5 million non-profit organisations in the US alone, choosing which to support can be overwhelming. It’s hard to find the time to educate oneself, or to feel as though you have enough money to support them all.

This is why you need to plan properly. Both in your self-education and how you donate. Philanthropist Patricia Turner has said on this matter that, “To be effective as a philanthropist and to make a significant impact, I believe you need to understand as fully as possible the areas in which you work, to take risks and to be prepared to fail, in order to develop the best way forward.”

Many businesses have taken it upon themselves to do just that. They now engage in more meaningful philanthropy. They want to understand issues in a deeper way, instead of just blindly donating money for some good press. If they can, why can’t the average person too?

To start with, write a ‘philanthropy biography’. List all of the causes that align with your own values. This will help you decide where it’s best to donate. Once you do this, it’s important to also vet charities before you give. There are numerous websites which will help you assess an organisation’s transparency and financial health, such as Charity Navigator or Give Well.

When an event occurs or you learn about a new issue, you should also see if any charities you currently support are doing anything for that movement. This will stop you having to go back to square one by finding another charity to support!

The mental benefits

It’s well documented that giving to others can improve your own mental well-being. A National Institutes of Health study looked at the functional MRIs of subjects who gave to various charities. They found that giving stimulates the mesolimbic pathway, which is the reward centre in the brain. It found that it releases endorphins and creates what’s called a ‘helpers high’. This is addictive just like other highs!

The knowledge that you are helping others is empowering. Not only does your brain experience pleasure when giving to charity, it can also strengthen your values too. It is easier to feel closer to a cause if you actively support it.

If you back a cause financially, it can make you feel more connected, as then you are part of the movement rather than just a passive observer. To many people, charitable giving is almost an obligation. You may feel a sense of responsibility to help others in need or causes that you feel strongly about. When you act on this feeling, you will feel a sense of pride for having done so.

Giving to a cause you care about also shows gratitude. That you are thankful for what you have, and are willing to give to help others less fortunate. It shows appreciation for those working hard on an issue that you care about.

Giving is also contagious. A Harvard study found seeing others give makes people more like to do so themselves. So in giving to charity, you might influence others to do the same and have a ripple effect of positivity!

It doesn’t end at a donation

While many people think that donating to a cause that you support is the be all and end all, they are wrong. If you’re not in a position financially to give money, donating your time can prove to have even more impact.

This could be as simple as educating your friends and colleagues, or doing someone a favour. Alternatively, you could volunteer for a charity of your choice and get to see the effect you and the organisation are having first-hand. You will also meet other like minded people and potentially develop new skills while you do so.

You don’t need to be a big business or a CEO to make a difference with your giving. Educate yourself and research how to properly give to causes you believe in. You will feel much better for having made the maximum impact possible by supporting something close to your heart.