Deliberate Giving

Like a lot of people, I’ve increasingly felt the urge to put my money where my mouth is and give to causes that I care about.

Aside from a few monthly donations I’ve had set up for a while, I often find myself donating to causes when someone shares something on Facebook or Twitter that says something like “THIS IS A REALLY IMPORTANT CAUSE; PLEASE HELP.” These causes that flick across my feed are no doubt worthwhile, but I can’t help but feeling that donating in this way is pretty arbitrary. My giving to worthwhile causes shouldn’t hinge solely on somebody’s tweet. I want to be more deliberate in these decisions, so I finally sat down to try to give some structure to how I give.

Parameters for giving

There are a ton of of things to think about when it comes to making donations: which organizations have the most impact? Which ones are reputable? How much do I give? One-time or monthly donation? Local or global? Where does my money go?

I ended up establishing a few parameters to help me make heads or tails of things. They are:

  • Nature of organization – How does the organization impact people? I realized Maslow’s hierarchy of needs might be able to be applied here to map organizations’ causes to human needs.
  • Locality – Neighborhood > city > state > national > world. Does “think globally, act locally” apply to giving? My hunch is that donating across the whole spectrum is a healthy way to distribute things.
  • Relationship – Self > family > friends > acquaintances > strangers.  People’s life experiences influence how they give. We’re hard-wired to help our own, and someone who’s personally affected by cancer might be more eager to give to cancer-related organizations. That being said, it’s also important to empathize for those that are different than you, so once again donating across the spectrum seems like the right thing to do.
  • Immediacy of effect – Immediate/acute or long-term/chronic? Does donating money address a problem quickly (i.e. a GoFundMe to pay hospital bills) or is it more playing the long game (i.e. keeping the earth from combusting)? Once again, I think both short and long-term causes are worth giving to.
  • Quality of the organization – There’s certainly no shortage of organizations looking for money. Thankfully, there are some websites that can help surface the best ones. Charity Watch rounds up the highest-ranked charities, and Charity Navigator has a bunch of top 10 charity lists. They also have great grades, summaries, and graphs! of these organizations.
  • Pet Causes – In addition to critical causes, donating to causes that you’re personally passionate about seems like a good way to stay engaged.

With these parameters in mind, I got to work researching and choosing organizations to give to.

Where I’m Giving

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs categorizes human needs in the following way:

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid: Physiological needs is the base of the pyramid, followed by Safety needs, followed by Social needs, followed by Esteem needs, followed by Self-actualization needs

I clustered the organizations I’m giving to using Maslow’s categories:


Food, water, warmth, rest (and existential issues).

  • Sierra Club (Donate) – Protecting the environment in an enduring, fair, and equitable way.
  • Environmental Defense Fund (Donate) – Addressing issues like global warming, ecosystem restoration, oceans, and human health.
  • Operation Safety Net (Donate)– Helps Pittsburgh’s homeless community get back on their feet and providing access to health care, hope, and dignity.
  • Pittsburgh Food Bank (Donate)– Helping feed the greater Pittsburgh region. We have a soft spot in our hearts for the Pittsburgh Food Bank as we did an open redesign of their website.
  • 412 Food Rescue (Donate)– Saves food that would otherwise be thrown out and distributes it to those who need it.
  • Charity Water (Donate) – Providing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries.
  • Give Directly (Donate) – Sending money directly to people living in extreme poverty.


Security, health, and well being.

  • Doctors Without Borders (Donate) – Delivering emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from health care.
  • Amnesty International (Donate) – Fighting injustice and promoting human rights through research, advocacy, and action.
  • The Syria Campaign (Donate) – Campaigning for a peaceful and democratic future for Syria.
  • Planned Parenthood (Donate) – Providing reproductive health services and education to many women and families in the U.S. and globally.
  • ACLU (Donate) – Defending and preserving individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.
  • Small Can Be Big (Donate) – Helping save local low-income families from homelessness, medical crises, or domestic violence
  • Journey Forward Pittsburgh (Donate) – My cousin Claire is working hard to open a rehabilitation center in Pittsburgh for people with spinal cord injuries.

Social, Esteem, and Self-actualization

I’m clumping psychological and self-fulfillment needs together, so organizations that help foster friendships, provide people prestige & accomplishment, and help people achieve their full potential are rounded up here.

  • Homeless Children’s Education Fund (Donate) – Helping homeless children in Pittsburgh receive an education.
  • Assemble (Donate) – An amazing space in Pittsburgh that teaches the arts and technology to the community.
  • Girl Develop It (Donate) – Providing affordable and judgment-free opportunities for women interested in learning web and software development.
  • Black Girls Code (Donate) – helping increase the number of women of color in the digital space.
  • P.S. Arts (Donate) – Improving children’s lives through arts education.
  • WYEP (Donate) – Pittsburgh’s independent radio station that is an integral part of our city’s music community.

All these organizations plotted out on the pyramid looks like this:

Organizations I'm giving to plotted out according to Maslow's pyramid

The x-axis of the graph spans from local/acute/immediate on the left to global/chronic/long-term on the right. So organizations that operate in a defined geographic area skew towards the left, while organizations that are more global in scope skew to the right. Organizations that address an acute and/or immediate need skew towards the left, while organizations that address more chronic and/or long-term problems skew towards the right.

The graph is far from scientific, but I again wanted some structure in how to think about the organizations I give to. Looking at the results, I think it makes sense that the bulk of the organizations are addressing many fundamental human needs. After all, it’s tough to achieve your full potential if you’re lacking basic food and shelter. But I also think plotting this out helps show some holes in where I’m giving, and I’m hoping to remedy that.

Moving Forward

A few things worth noting:

  • These causes are obviously specific to me and what I care about. I hope the parameters I laid out can help other people give more deliberately to causes they care about.
  • The number of causes may look like too much or too little to you. If this looks like a lot to you, don’t feel like you have to donate to this many causes. It looks deceptively big, as some of these donations are one-time or for modest amounts. If this looks like too little to you, I’m definitely open to suggestions. There’s only so much time to research and vet organizations, so I’d love to hear of organizations that are doing a lot of good.
  • I realize the world and my own situation will change over time, so I’m planning on adapting my giving over time.
  • I am in no way, shape, or form an expert in this realm, so take all of this with a grain of salt.
I realize that donating money isn’t a panacea, and I desperately want to do more tangible things to help the causes I care about. My biggest foe is time. I have a tendency to work all the time, which eats into time I could be giving to other things, including helping worthwhile organizations. I have ideas on other ways I can help people, and I’m hoping to explore those in the coming months. Until then, I’m going to give where I can.