Why is supporting upstream organizations important?
Upstream can solve the problem, but our attention is downstream
Most of us don’t stop to think about whether our contributions are helping to solve a problem or address a symptom. When we give money we donate to the latest emergency, disaster or sad story and we get the immediate gratification of knowing we helped alleviate suffering.
We’re motivated to help individuals
Humans are motivated by stories of individuals. When nonprofits want to raise money, they tell the individual stories of one person helped or one animal saved. The reality of our motivation works to keep our attention downstream.
We’re motivated by immediate feel-good results and simplicity
While symptoms can be alleviated rather quickly and counted as a success (a hungry person is fed, a homeless person is sheltered, a foster pet is adopted), addressing the cause and preventing poverty and homeless pets takes much longer. Upstream work doesn’t offer the immediate feel-good benefit we crave. Plus the work of upstream organizations can be complex and often takes some explaining.
Contributions to some upstream organizations are not tax deductible
Certain types of upstream organizations are focused exclusively on lobbying for legislation and policy. These organizations are categorized as 501(c)(4). This work is extremely important to solve problems. But because contributions to these organizations are not deductible, our tax laws handicap these upstream groups.
(Note, 501(c)(3) organizations are allowed to be involved in a limited amount of advocacy as long as the advocacy is around issues and not particular candidates.)
Historically our government has sponsored upstream work like the WPA, Head Start and the Clean Air Act. However in these times of intense partisan politics, we cannot afford to wait for government to solve these problems. It is more important than ever for individuals to support upstream organizations.