As the new year starts to settle in, and most people begin to realize which of their resolutions they're actually going to keep, I have noticed a trend in the type of goal-setting my friends have listed as priorities for 2015. Along with the stereotypical eat healthier, work out more, and get better at managing finances, many of my peers have begun to mention philanthropic work as something they'd really like to do more of this year.
The issue with charity work for most people my age is that we have very little money to give because we're living paycheck to paycheck. This leaves us with the option of volunteer work. Yet somehow weekends seem to quickly become filled with hikes, beach-going, parties and barbeques, basically anything that involves socializing with friends and inevitably alcoholic beverages. My friends and I all work full-time Monday through Friday, so weekends are precious time to relax and just... hangout.
I don't know if it's my age or my recent addiction to documentaries, public radio, and any form of nonfiction storytelling (or a combination of both) but lately I can't seem to shake the feeling that I should and could be doing something to benefit other people less fortunate than myself. Clearly many of my friends feel the same way, but what are we actively doing to change that? For example, here I am writing about this rather than actually doing research on volunteer opportunities in my community.
I have to wonder how many people, who essentially have the time and living circumstances to do charity work, actually do it. Are there some people who do not consider philanthropy an important part of their life goals? I'm aware of the "liberal guilt" concept, which very well may be what I'm experiencing. But if that's what will get me to contribute my time to a charitable cause then I don't think feeling guilty is playing a negative role here.
There is of course another alternative to donating money and volunteering time in the name of charity, and that is participating in activism on social media, appropriately dubbed "slacktivism." The assumption is that people who "like" charitable causes on Facebook, or retweet a fundraising post, are not very likely to engage deeply with the same cause later on. They effectively scatter their support all over the place rather than committing to one cause and really working towards change.
The Washington Post cites a study that says it is more common for private acts of support to lead to a deeper connection to an issue, rather than public support. Essentially, someone who writes a letter to their congress person, rather than "liking" a charitable cause on Facebook, is more likely to participate in activism on a deeper level down the road, having a larger effect on actual change.
That doesn't mean that being vocal about an issue on social media can't actually impact change either. When you post something on Facebook or Twitter, your friends see it, then if they like it or retweet it their friends see it too. This can be a powerful awareness tool, but I still feel like it's just not enough. I don't feel like I'm effecting real change by tweeting, posting, or even signing an electronic petition. I want to go old school with my philanthropy. I want to get my hands dirty and see the direct result of my efforts make a change in someone's life.
I do believe it's possible to make a difference with a combination of slacktivism and real-life activism. There's nothing wrong with creating awareness about an issue on the internet, as long as you make an effort to find ways to continue supporting the cause offline. The latter is the part many people struggle with.
There are usually hundreds of volunteer opportunities in any given city, but getting involved means not procrastinating. Unfortunately this can be challenging for a lot of people I know, myself included. The only thing that can really motivate anyone to volunteer is thinking about the people you're helping. If you care to make their lives better, the effort will come naturally.