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Are your contributions solving a problem or pulling babies out of the river?

There is a story of a group of villagers gathered for a picnic along a river. As they enjoy food and conversation someone notices a baby in the river. One of the villagers jumps in and pulls the screaming baby from the river, saving it from death. No sooner has the baby been saved, then the villagers look upstream to see another baby in the river followed by another and still more. The villagers frantically form a line to organize their rescue efforts. But two of the villagers start to run upstream. “Where are you going?” shouts a rescuer “We need your help to save these babies.” They reply; “We’re going upstream to keep the babies out of the river!”

This village is our city. Every day we pull babies from the river – hungry toddlers, a shelter dog, a crime victim, a homeless family, a flood victim. It makes us feel good – we fed the toddlers and we found homes for the dogs. We cleaned up after the flood. We get immediate results.

But what if we moved some of our charitable donations upstream? What if instead of giving only to a food pantry, we also supported training to help people get better jobs? What if instead of saving just one shelter dog, we also supported organizations working to decrease the number of unwanted pets in the first place? What if we invested to change the future for many rather than just making life better today for a few?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause us to overlook the circumstances that make that philanthropy necessary.” To create a just society we must go upstream to address the cause.

Our simple idea is to move some of your funding upstream towards prevention and problem solving. Not all of it. But challenge yourself to give as much money to organizations working on the cause as you do to those working on the symptom. By working to prevent problems in the fist place we can create a future with fewer babies in the water. And in the long run, that is a far greater accomplishment.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Chinese Proverb

Read more
Upstream vs. Downstream
Why This Matters
Selection Criteria

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