Almost immediately following the election, my news feeds and everyday conversations became populated with what I call “the Bad Feeling.” The holidays may have provided a momentary distraction, but, with Inauguration Day looming, it’s back with a vengeance. Donald Trump will soon be the president of the United States, and though the consistency of his policies is shaky (at best), it seems like any number of apocalyptic futures might be possible. The Bad Feeling is nebulous. The Bad Feeling inspires both anger and dread.
But it has also galvanized us into action. A record number of people have turned out to protest, many for the first time. We’ve taken to the streets and opened our wallets. Yet, for those new to all of this, it can be hard to know where to start.
Donating to national organizations, like the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood, is a great way to get involved. But funding for local, issue-specific agencies and local action are what’s really needed. Local organizations are often small and underfunded, though they do vital work directly within vulnerable communities and are often led by members of the same community. Supporting existing organizations that have a proven track record of working directly on issues—whether that’s providing services to individuals or lobbying for policy change—is crucial to ensuring that the fight for equality and positive change continues. Here’s how to join in:
Nothing beats putting your money where your mouth is, but you can also volunteer your time and skill set in a way that can be both impactful and empowering. Get started by identifying a local nonprofit, getting in touch, and asking about their specific needs. If you have particular skills or talents (such as coding or fluency in another language), mention them, because they might be of use. Many organizations need help with outreach and administrative work, but if you have a legal background, for example, you can offer pro bono legal services. And if you have free nights or weekends, getting trained to cover overnight shifts at your local antiviolence program’s crisis hotline could be an option.
If you can’t volunteer, consider donating money. Even if it’s not very much, when you give local, your dollar goes far. Local organizations are always in need of funding, because bigger, shinier national organizations (with larger megaphones) often get the lion’s share of donations. Your donation will support staff, provide infrastructure—it can literally help keep the lights on—and allow important, community-based programs near you to continue. It’s a surefire, fail-proof way to contribute to a cause you care about. (Plus, a donation to a local organization demonstrates your willingness to engage locally, which is critical to community building.)
It’s important to vet a charity or nonprofit organization so you know exactly where your money is going. Request a copy of their annual report (called a 990) to see how their donations are allocated. Take a look at their program spending versus the amount spent on professional fundraisers and executive compensation. You want to donate to a place where the largest percentage of your donation will go directly to programs.