Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg is oft-quoted for saying “A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.” It’s a troubling thought, but absolutely correct. This week illustrates his point exactly: a famine in Somalia is killing hundreds each day, yet there is little media coverage. Case in point: the New York Times‘ feature today is about luxury goods. The Wall Street Journal? No mention on the home page. How about Huffington Post? Slightly better, if you scroll down far enough.
But this treatment isn’t all that surprising. Unfortunately, people don’t have the capacity to constantly hear about emergencies. When they do, it results in “donor fatigue“, and people end less likely to give than they were before the call to action.
The problem with this cycle it’s that it’s reactive. An emergency prompts pressing public campaigns for support, and people react by giving. They give once or twice, and then move on, even if the problem persists. So why do they stop? A reactive cycle relies on triggering guilt, and people give to relieve themselves of this burden. This can be very effective in the short-term, but after too much, people tune out.
But a much better cycle is a proactive one in which giving happens before an emergency. Proactive giving is when one chooses to regularly donate, regardless of the state of emergency. It means that giving is part of everyday life – built into your monthly budget or done using easy tools like SwipeGood or GoodSearch. It’s giving because you’ve decided it’s important, not because someone else has told you it is. When proactive giving occurs, some good things result:
- It helps aid workers prepare for emergencies ahead of time. This is ultimately more effective – why not prevent someone from falling ill instead of only treating them once they do? Helping alleviate poverty in the first place is one of the best ways to avert future crises.
- It creates a level of giving that is sustainable for your own situation. I’d argue that it’s easier for many people to give $20/month for a year (for a $240/year) than to part with $100 annually in one fell swoop. You’ll actually give more, but it will feel like less.
- It creates a better sense of awareness about the world and the challenges it faces. By supporting causes more regularly, you’ll find yourself more interested in the world at large, and less reliant on sensational crises to keep you informed.