What Can I Do to Help? How to donate effectively after tragedies

charity donate giving goals gun control purpose Jun 09, 2022

Gun violence, war, pandemic, natural disasters—listening to the news or doomscrolling on social media during times of tragedy can leave us feeling devastated, discouraged, and angry. Tragedy can also make us feel like helping. We're motivated to reach those affected and do something.

Giving money can be a simple way to help. In the wake of a tragedy, many of us react fast and give to the first plea that comes across our Facebook feed. This is reactive giving, and while it's significant, reactive givers often feel like they didn’t actually make a difference. 

There is another approach to giving that will leave you confident about your contribution. After recent mass shootings, many people asked me how to help. So I am providing tools to put the power of your money to work effectively in any tragedy. 


Find Your Focus

Ask yourself what you care about most.

This may seem like an obvious question, but really exploring it will guide you to organizations you want to support.

The factors that lead to tragedies are complex, and so are the potential solutions. There are many approaches for accomplishing similar goals, as shown in my simplified examples: If we X, then Y, which will result in Z.

If we …

  • Enact stricter gun control laws
  • Have better enforcement of existing laws

Then …

  • Fewer guns or assault weapons are available
  • They are harder to get

Which will result in …

  • Fewer mass shootings
  • Fewer families suffering loss


If we …

  • Have more awareness and available mental health resources
  • Normalize seeking help for mental health

Then …

  • Fewer people suffer mental health issues without options available for help
  • Fewer people with have unrecognized or untreated mental health issues

Which will result in …

  • Fewer mass shootings
  • Fewer families suffering loss


If we …

  • Have less racism
  • Have less hate

Then …

  • There will be fewer racially motivated or hate crimes

Which will result in …

  • Fewer mass shootings
  • Fewer families suffering loss


Whatever piece of a complex issue you choose, your involvement should align with your personal values and what is most meaningful to you. Perhaps it is helping victims and their families overcoming trauma. Maybe it's advocating for gun control, supporting mental health, or fighting what's fueling the hate. 

When you are thinking about your focus, it is important to consider whether you would like to contribute your money to groups that might be treating the results—such as devastation in the aftermath of violence—or tackling the root cause—such as stopping gun violence. 


Assess Your Options

Once you determine your focus and where you would like your point of impact to be, the next step is to find and assess your options. 

You may have a charity in mind already, or you may be on the hunt for one that fits your focus. Either way, start with a charity evaluation website, such as Charity Navigator. It's important to note some rating systems on these sites can be misleading if you don’t understand the information provided. The actual impact an organization is making isn't always clear. I’ll be detailing this in an upcoming blog post.

On a charity evaluation site, you can find a charity related to a recent disaster by looking for a “hot topics” tab to see what speaks to you.

Once you find a charity you're interested in—or if you already had one in mind—determine if it's legitimate. Fraudsters know emotionally motivated people can be generous, and they capitalize on that. To see if the charity you're interested in is fraudulent, check it out on a charity evaluation website or the IRS website. When you do this, make sure to use EXACT WORDING IN EXACT ORDER. Another option: Do a simple online search with EXACT NAME and the word “scam” or “fraud.”

Then to make sure what they're doing actually aligns with the point of impact you want to make, check the organization’s website. Carefully read their mission statement. What do they aim to accomplish, and does it align with your values and philanthropic focus? How do they evaluate their progress and impact? Do they share metrics they track? Who is driving the organization—is it being led and informed by the population it helps?


Take Action

Once you have evaluated relevant charities, consider these things before donating:

  • Will this be a one-time donation or is this something I feel strongly about supporting long term? In the case of a shooting, you might want to make a one-time donation to support the victims, then contribute to an organization that addresses root causes. One of the easy ways to do that is to set up a monthly contribution. This can be incredibly helpful to organizations for the purposes of their budgeting. Ongoing donations do not have to be a lot of money, and organizations understand there will be times when people cancel, but having that expected income is very useful for planning.
  • How will I follow up and understand my impact? To understand the impact you are making and recognize the difference you're making, it’s helpful to do some follow-up. This does not have to be complicated or take much time. One way to do this is to set yourself a reminder for the beginning of the year to check on any organization where you made a donation. You can put it in your calendar with a link to their website to make it easy for yourself, and look for their impact report or a year-end fiscal report. It can be incredibly inspiring to see the good they have done, even in small steps, and how you have helped, even with small amounts of money. 


When you see your impact on a charity you value and spent time researching, you know you are using the power of your money for good. 

You can be the change you want to see in the world through effective, efficient, and impactful philanthropy. Check out my course, The Physician Philanthropist, for a comprehensive education on and strategy for maximizing the impact of your giving both for you and your causes

Online Course

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