Should We Give Locally Before Giving Globally?

The need to give is everywhere.

Giving is an important and integral part of personal and family budgets throughout the nation. As American’s we are blessed with an abundance, and with great abundance comes great responsibility. But are we forgetting our own communities by focusing our giving efforts on national and international tragedies?

No matter where you go in the world you will always find the needy. There are needs in Indonesia, needs in Haiti, and needs in Africa, and need elsewhere in the United States, but…

What about the needs right here at home? Extensive television coverage of major tragedies can easily command our attention. Local community needs, on the other hand, rarely grace our TV screens.

Does this make one need more important than another? Of course not. It simply means that the focus our media gives tragic global events can cause the needs of our local communities to slip under the radar when it comes to charitable giving.

Shouldn’t we focus on meeting the needs within our local communities before committing our support to other national and international crises?

Media tends to focus on sensational events

When disaster strikes, no nation responds with the speed or quantity of the United States… Yet there is so much unmet need at the local community level. Why? Do American’s care about the broader needs of other states and nations more than the needs of their own neighborhood?

I don’t think so. I think local needs often go unmet simply because we’re unaware of exactly what they are. It’s more sensational for media outlets to carry stories of global disaster than to talk about the homeless people living 10 miles away.

If we care to know the needs that exist right in our own back yards, we have to seek out that information ourselves.

How to find local need

If you are interested in giving locally, here are a few place to start:

  1. Local churches – Many local churches actively support community needs. If you’re interested in seeing how your church budget is spent, ask to see a copy of it. Churches often keep open books and are usually proactive about giving attendees a breakdown of how charitable funds are being distributed.
  2. Township and city halls – Another great way to discover local needs is to check with your local municipality. Many times they will have precompiled lists of all local charities complete with location and contact information.
  3. The phone book – Crack open the phone book and look up your local homeless shelter or food bank. Next, give them a call or stop by to see what they’re all about.
  4. Take a walk – If you really want to get a feel for the needs of your community, just take a walk or a drive around town… It shouldn’t take you long to discover local needs. This may be a little disorganized, and you don’t want to just hand over cash to strangers on the street, but taking a look around can open your eyes to things you never saw before.

Giving locally makes sense

As I was writing this article, my wife came home from work and told me about a local family that lost everything in a house fire last night. She gave a good portion of her the money from her miscellaneous cash envelope to help their cause. This is the exactly the kind of local tragedy that happens every day, but rarely receives the media coverage necessary to elicit enough giving to meet the need.

The following snippet from a local charitable organization expresses the point beautifully:

“Giving locally makes sense because you know where and how your charitable dollars are being spent. Local charities and non-profit organizations understand and embrace the interests and values of our community. Local charities have fewer layers of administration than international or national charities and more of your dollars are likely to go directly to delivering the service the charity or non-profit was established to provide. In the end, giving closer to home improves our city’s quality of life and helps to build a stronger local community.”

Give where your burden or passions lie

Ultimately, you should give where you feel called to give. If you feel that your charitable donations should go to the aid of a foreign nation, then you should follow your heart. If you feel inclined to work with the homeless population in your community, then do that. The most important thing is to give somewhere.

Where we give

Because we believe giving should be focused locally before being committed elsewhere, our entire giving budget is allocated to our church and our local homeless shelter. Once we become debt free, we hope to be able to expand and give much more, but that’s a story for another day!

Personally, I have never given to an international organization nor to support the tragedies in a state or country other than my own. This is not because I don’t care about other nations or other communities, but because I have limited resources and would rather see them resources poured into the place where my family lives, works, and plays.

While I don’t want to project my burden for giving onto anyone else, my view is that a locally-focused giving strategy would greatly benefit individual communities.

Where do you give?

Do you give? If so, do you give locally, nationally, or internationally? Or perhaps a combination of all three? What do you think of the idea of focusing on your local community first?

40 Responses to “Should We Give Locally Before Giving Globally?”

  1. Anonymous

    I believe it depends on your ability to give. I honestly think that giving locally should be a priority, if there are legitimate needs locally. I believe you should give to your Church first. I also think that by giving locally you have a lot more knowledge as to what you are giving to and how your gift is being used.
    I think too many of the global organizations have a lot of overhead that eats up your donation. Though some are certainly better than others. We give mostly locally but do give to the larger organizations that support what we believe in. We are also contributors to the Catholic Foundation for the Aging and Children. I have been very impressed with what they do to help people in need with very little overhead.

  2. Anonymous

    It is hard to choose, and I agree it’s important to focus and give larger amounts – my partner had a habit of donating $10 or $15 when asked but then the organization spends that much mailing us junk later. And after our son was born we had to rethink our time commitments. So we focused on larger amounts to fewer groups.

    We are pretty evenly split between local, national, and international. My big focus is the work they do – I really like groups like Trees For Life and Plant With Purpose (i think that’s their new name) that do antipoverty work and environmental protection at the same time.

    And we both donate time, me mostly literacy tutoring and him mostly building through Habitat.

    We have a pretty serious disagreement on how much to give to charity, and a list of gift recipients who are anti-clutter, so we tend to do charitable donations for Christmas gifts – we actually solved a budget standoff year before last by him “giving” me a chunk of budget to put into Kiva. It’s been pretty awesome – the $300 gift has let me lend $50/mo for 14 months now, I just keep recycling what gets paid back.

  3. Anonymous

    It is so hard to navigate the great amount of charities out there. I worked in a non-profit for a while where we had to fund raise. We worked with local at-risk teens. It was so tough to raise money because of the vast amount of cash going to a vast amount of charities. Some with no connection whatsoever to your daily life. Giving locally is so important. One benefit is the long-term effect. I felt like every kid we helped got back on track is one more kid that could go over to Haiti or west africa to work in different social problems that would not have had the opportunity before.

    There is one young lady we helped who is in college now studying to work in third world countries on aids work. She would not have even thought about it before without our intervention locally.

  4. Anonymous

    I can’t help but give to local charities and international charities. We gave to Oxfam and Doctors without Borders (for no other reason than they lost 3 hospitals in Haiti). I also give to the Red Cross and we donate time as well. The local Red Cross has helped the homeless that lost homes to foreclosures. I can’t help but relate to the words “There but for fortune, go you and I” when I give. Anyone of us can be in a situation where we need some good works.

  5. Anonymous

    I think I fall somewhere in the middle on this debate. I give locally to my church and local food shelf charities, and sometimes feel called to give internationally as well. I think there is genuine need both locally and internationally. Personally it’s hard for me to look at this topic purely from a monetary or ROI point of view – having seen the pure suffering and poverty personallly on a local level – and having seen it 3rd hand internationally. My father worked at a local food shelf for many years, and from helping him there sometimes, there are a lot of hurting and needy people, even here in the U.S.

    I think it’s a topic for prayerful consideration, one that you need to make your own decisions on – and let God call you where to give.

  6. Anonymous

    Matt, to that end, I participate constructively in comments sections 😉

    Strangely, I’ve thought about it, but I don’t know that I have a variety of enough interesting things to say to fill a daily blog post for weeks/months/years on end.

    Quite frankly, I’d rather find an existing blogger and contribute there when I have something worthwhile.

  7. Anonymous

    @Greg: Dan could start blog and give information away at no cost like Nickel and I do.

    @Christina: Glad we were able to stimulate some positive thought… thank you for letting us know your point of view. 🙂

  8. Anonymous

    It really make sense that we should attend to the needs of our community first, the same way that we should attend to the needs of our families before others. But then, for me, I donate some to those that really needs it, regardless whether it’s for the Ondoy victims or Haiti and others like clothing, I look at the people around me who might need it or ask for it. I just try to help in my own little way. There’s nothing wrong whether you give locally or globally, but I must admit, this article made me think somehow, because how can you help others when you can’t even help your community. Well, just a thought.

  9. Anonymous

    @Dan: You are right on, donation of time and talent is often worth more than money…or at least what a non-profit can afford.

    Financial literacy is something many, especially those in need, lack. Beyond just the teaching, the mentoring that comes with it is valuable.

    Now here is the catch; how do you connect with those who benefit from your teaching and mentoring? Possibly you could run an ad in the paper or walk the streets. But in all likelihood you would approach a community organization like Boys & Girls Club, Salvation Army, or a church and have them host your program.

    This gets back to the discussion of how or who supports the community organization?

  10. Anonymous

    @ Floridian —

    I hope I don’t come across as bitter — I’m not — my only point is that I want to enjoy the fruits of my financial labors for awhile before I start redistributing some of it.

    In fact, when it came to college, I’m glad I was on my own. I get along great with my parents, but I wonder how that would have changed had they had money to “influence” me with. (You know, do what we tell you to do or we cut you off.)

    You bring up an interesting point with your two examples. You compared the 9/11 relief fund with cancer treatment for children… just like nobody expects their child to get cancer, who really expects anybody under age 50 to die, or for that matter, who expects anybody to get cancer at all? (And truthfully, the more unlikely the event, the more reason to have insurance if the policy is priced correctly.)

    But I get your overall point, and it’s why I tend not to feel the need to give financially right now — many, many people are where they are as a result of their dumb choices. And I don’t feel the need to pay for their mistakes, be it through tax-funded entitlement programs or discretionary spending.

  11. Anonymous

    Hey Dan, I understand where you are coming from. I grew up lower middle class as well, and worked my tail off to put myself through college. I got over my bitterness of having nothing and having to work so much harder than most college classmates (whose mommies and daddies paid the bill) a long time ago. Although, I still have a beef with all the social welfare programs the Dems like to support, which will do nothing but raise our taxes in the future when they realize they can’t pay for all the handouts they’re providing. Anyway…yeah, I am very anti-handout for those who are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves (so much so that I did not feel compelled to give after 9/11 – I thought that those making the big bucks who were not responsible enough to get some freakin’ life insurance did not deserve help keeping their houses in the suburbs!). I worked HARD to get to where I am – many others sitting on their bums collecting welfare could do the same (i.e. get off their lazy ar$es and change their situation)! Which is why I prefer to give to charities that help to remedy situations that people have no control over – Like St Judes, who provides cancer treatment to children – who expects their child will get cancer?!?!

    I like your idea of supporting the advancement of low income students. I hope you find yourself with enough time/money and opportunity to do so.

  12. Anonymous

    @Dan: Sounds like your burden is to donate your time to teaching others how to improve their lives. There is an enormous need for this type of giving. Giving doesn’t have to be monetary.

  13. Anonymous

    @Mike Piper: I give where I see need – and since there is so much need in my local community, I am compelled to give to my neighbors first.

    @Sunderware: I am in no position to say whether one need “outweighs” another. What I can say is that each of us have utterly different backgrounds and points-of-view, which is essential if the many differing needs of the world are to be met. The bottom line is, give where you see need, period.

  14. Anonymous

    @Matt Jabs:

    Matt, thanks for the challenge, but at this time of my life, you are much more likely to find me donating my time rather than my money (note that I don’t donate either at this point.)

    Perhaps my value system is different than yours — I grew up lower middle class without much in the way of “extras.” I went through college with some grants and a bunch of student loans, and got where I did mostly through hard work and a little luck. (I sure didn’t sit on my bum and get handouts.)

    So part of me feels like I’ve earned the right to a few of those extras — I sure don’t feel compelled to start handing over my hard earned cash until I do — and until my consumer debt is paid off, I’m not even enjoying too many of those extras right now.

    My mindset is that of “feed a man a fish, and he eats for a day; teach him how to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.” I don’t feel compelled to feed a man a fish (write a check) — that’s simply a redistribution of wealth (socialism) — but I do feel compelled to teach a man to fish (give my time.) To that end, I would find it worth my time to figure out how to volunteer with financial literacy projects. Our country is where it is right now not for a lack of charitable giving, but for a lack of financial literacy. If I were to donate money, it would likely be toward a scholarship fund for low-income students. (Again, it’s that teach a man to fish thing…)

  15. Anonymous


    I appreciate your stance to give locally. We need local givers as much as International givers, and those that support animal rights and other causes.

    Our unique personalities will cause us to be drawn to one area or another. This is one instace that I’m glad we all don’t agree otherwise someone would be serious lacking. If EVERYONE gave to international organizations, who would support the local efforts and vice versa?

    Matt you said it best when you said to “give something”

    Personally, I choose to support local efforts and International.

  16. Anonymous

    Matt: While I do admit, my disposition has been tainted by a few bad apples that I happen to know personally, I do believe my point still stands.
    In what situation would a domestic need/charity outweigh the need for, as an example, clean drinking water in third world country where it’s not available?

  17. Anonymous

    @Mike Piper: By burden I just mean where you feel compelled to give.

    I see where you’re coming from now… you approach giving from more of an ROI perspective which is interesting, I had never looked at giving that way before.

    For me I give where I feel compelled/burdened to give, regardless of how expensive it may be to do so – but I do understand and appreciate your thought process.

  18. Anonymous

    Interestingly enough, I was just having a similar conversation with someone about this the other day. My opinions are completely the opposite of yours. And very strongly so…
    I would never give anything to a domestic charity. The causes and charities that people give to in this country flat out amaze me. People who are considered to be poverty stricken in the US have access to SO much more than the majority of people in the world. They can go to a hospital to get medical care… there are homeless shelters, thrift stores, soup kitchens… as mentioned above, we have infrastructure set up help people. In fact, it has reached the point where we have to worry about people taking advantage of the system. Almost everyone knows someone who is on public assistance and doesn’t deserve it because they made and CONTINUE to make poor life choices.
    And on the other hand, there are people in third world countries suffering and dying from lack of the most basic necessities of life… water, food, simple shelter, or cheap immunizations.
    An example, of what I feel is ridiculousness, is Toys for Tots. I’m not a cold hearted child hater, I swear. I completely understand the want to make a child happy, see a smile on their face, etc, etc. But…you could give a $5 toy to a toddler, who, as those of you that have children may know, will have just as a good a time playing with the wrapping paper as the toy itself OR you could give $5’s worth medicine to prevent another child from dying of malaria. To me, that’s not a choice. I don’t see how you could possibly conceive of doing the former. Just because we don’t witness the pain and suffering of people halfway across the world, does not make it less real.
    The point of rant is not to assail people for giving locally… But to point out that giving locally is not charity in the purest sense of the word. Giving locally so that you can personally witness the benefits reaped means that you are giving just as much for yourself as for others. Giving to those that truly need your help, despite the fact that you will never benefit from the contribution is truly charitable.

  19. Anonymous

    In reply to Matt in comment 10:

    “The most important thing is that we give something!”

    Agreed absolutely.

    “Be careful not to project your giving burden onto others.”

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean here. It appears you’re using the word “burden” in a way with which I’m not familiar.

    Any giving is at the expense of other potential giving. I simply cannot justify putting my money toward feeding/clothing/housing one person, when the same amount of money could feed/clothe/house 2 (or 10) people. To do so would be to equate the value of that one person with the value of those 2 (or 10) other people.

    I understand that for others it’s not that simple. But for me, it is.

  20. Anonymous

    @Dan: You raise many questions, I’ll touch on at least a few.

    Giving is defined as presenting voluntarily and without expecting compensation, which is completely separate and distinct from tax dollars that go toward funding entitlement programs.

    I understand your stretched budget and debt amounts – I’m in the same boat – but giving is honestly more of a gift to the giver than to the beneficiary.

    I challenge you to make one donation (regardless of amount) to a charity of your choosing – local or otherwise, wherever you feel burden. The challenge is to find something to which you are happy to support, despite your limited funds. The best type of giving is sacrificial giving, where you put the needs of others above your own.

    Per a post dedicated to giving… we should be able to working something in soon. 🙂

  21. Anonymous

    @Dan – along similar lines, I just finished taking a business ethics course surrounding the idea of ‘corporate social responsibility’. My conclusion likely disheartened the professor, as I now believe that corporations have no responsibility above working within the law and contributing to the common good only so far as it benefits the company.

    The reason for this is that if a corporation is to give (without gaining any compensation in the form of good will or otherwise – so they would need to give anonymously), the executives of the firm are essentially acting unilaterally to take funds from one group and pass them on to another. As an example, if GE decides to give $1 billion to Haiti anonymously, the money they give must come either from profits that are owned by shareholders, reduced wages for employees, or increased prices for customers. In addition, since it is a charitable donation, American taxpayers also bear a portion of the burden because corporate tax revenue is reduced commensurate with the donation meaning there is less money to fund the government’s operations.

    While this hypothetical donation would be welcomed by the Haitian people and if discovered would receive resounding applaud from the media and the public, there is a cost to this that must be paid by shareholders, employees, customers, and/or other taxpayers.

    Keep in mind, this is only of corporations and not sole proprietorships, small partnerships, closely held corporations, and individuals and families.

    Just curious what other readers think about this subject even if it’s not directly linked to the post.

  22. Anonymous


    I like this post. It brings up some interesting philosophical and political discussion points for which there are no right or wrong answers.

    But I’d also like to see a discussion on the larger point of giving in general — right now, I don’t give at all.

    Despite the fact that I make a decent paycheck, I live in a high cost of living area and have a negative net worth. (I’ve been aggressively paying down consumer debt that I accumulated during a period of unemployment. I also have a boat-load of student loan debt — about $80k worth.)

    So many people seem to believe that charitable giving (church giving too) is a must as long as one has a job. But why? Bear with me for a moment while I jump over to a recent guest post on Get Rich Slowly. The guest poster was an entrepreneurial young lady who hires people from foreign countries to do various tasks for her. She talked a bit about how she thought she was essentially doing them a favor for giving them work — and she got jumped on by many people for that. Several mentioned that paid employment is a business transaction, not a good-will gesture.

    So if the relationship between my employer and myself is a business transaction and not a charitable one, why should I be “obligated” to give a set % of my income to charity?

    Then, consider a family whose house burns down and has no insurance because they “can’t afford it”. Yet they have the ultra-deluxe cable package and the whole family has cell phones with unlimited minutes. (Could they really not afford insurance, or did they just choose not have it…) What makes them a compelling “worthy cause”? If it’s simply because “it’s the right thing to do” why do any of us carry insurance when we should be able to rely on others to step in for us? (In fact, that’s exactly what insurance is anyway. It’s paying for the privilege of having someone/some organization step up and help us in an emergency.)

    Furthermore, we fund many entitlement programs through our tax dollars. At my income level, with no kids, I do pay a non-trivial amount of taxes. I realize that some, if not most, of my tax dollars fund essential services, but at the same time, one can’t say that I contribute nothing to the less fortunate. (Heck, some of those “essential services” that I fund would be that US military aid in Haiti right now. And depending on how one feels about it, we also liberated those Iraqis from their horrible dictator. I can’t remember the last time we engaged in a military action for the purpose of defending an actual attack on our sovereign soil.)

  23. Anonymous

    For us it’s a combination. It helps us that it’s set aside in the budget off the top.

    An advantage to local giving is the measure of accountability involved. These are our neighbors and they may need more than cash or food. Maybe they just need someone to talk to. Or have their snow shoveled. An advantage to giving to a well run and efficient international charity is we know the needs addressed are greater and broader than we experience here in the states. Our abundance to meet another’s need. We never feel really poor if we can give to someone else.

    A slightly different point. You might not be given the details on how your church distributes deaconal help. Our deacons maintain confidentiality. At year end they say so many people outside the congregation were helped and so many people within the congregation were helped and this is what we brought in and this is what we gave out.

  24. Anonymous

    We give to the local no-kill pet shelter where we got our dog and to the Wounded Heroes Foundation to support injured veterans. We also give used items to Goodwill, and misc. contributions to family/work/friend sponsored charity events like Relay for Life, work charity drives, etc.

  25. Anonymous

    @Mike Piper: You said, “In my view, to give to US charities is to explicitly decide that people in the US are more valuable than those elsewhere.”

    Be careful not to project your giving burden onto others. All need is equally important and it takes all types of burdens to meet those needs. Your burden to give internationally and mine to give locally are both equally necessary and one is not superior to the other. The most important thing is that we give something! 🙂

  26. Anonymous

    Giving globally does not have to be separate from giving locally. As mentioned above, giving globally through a local organization is easy.

    What I like about giving local organizations is the ability to know and intact with the people who handle the money. I can not get the time of day from the head of the American Red Cross, but I can drop in and chat with the head of the local chapter of the American Red Cross any time I want.

  27. To add to my point above, I would agree with the point that you shouldn’t give to nation or international relief efforts to the exclusion of local giving, but I don’t think you should do the reverse, either.

  28. Matt: We do a combination of the above. We are big supporters of our local food bank and homeless shelter, but we also donate to support things like the Red Cross (“where the need is greatest”) and Unicef. Beyond humanitarian efforts, we also support The Conservation Fund.

    Another thing to consider is that developing countries have so much less in the way of resources that their needs in the face of a disaster won’t be met by local donations (i.e., buy people living there).

    That being said,we generally do not make “one off” donations just because an ad or news report jerks at our heart strings. Just the other night, our eight year old son asked us about texting $10 to support Haitian relief efforts. We explained to him that we already make major donations to the Red Cross (who is the recipient of the $10 texting campaign), so we’re already supporting their work in a much bigger way than a $10 text donation.

    As Michael points out, certain charities such as the Red Cross provide support at all levels — from local home fires to major international catastrophes — so a portion of your money does get spent locally (based on relative need).

    A final point is that local charities are typically much smaller, and thus they are often less efficient (in terms of the % of your dollars that go to the cause vs. administrative costs). This doesn’t stop us from supporting several local causes, but it’s something to consider. Be careful, though, because there are some large charities that do an awful job.

    Some good resources for checking out charities:

  29. Anonymous

    We give to church first – and our church makes sure to help locally AND globally. Other donations we’ve made in the past few months have been to the USO, St Jude’s Hospital, American Cancer Society, and a local wildlife organization. Giving internationally is great, but there are so many in need right here at home. I don’t think US citizens are more important than any other people in the world – but when we skip local charities to give internationally, are we neglecting our own citizens? When I get home later, I will find a FB post from a friend of mine who wrote on the same subject recently…

  30. Anonymous

    We give both locally and internationally. People need to realize that while we have needs being unmet here in this country the reality is that we do not understand the level of poverty and need that is found around the world.

    We have an infrastructure, albeit a flawed at times, to help people unemployment, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, thrift stores, etc. that don’t exist in many parts of the world. Your dollar goes further and more people can be helped when giving internationally. We give a lot to Samaritan’s Purse which works both domestically and internationally and most of the donations go to the ministry/projects and not to the company.

    I think it is important to balance the two and my wife and I plan for that. Everyone has limited resources its just what you do with them that matters. We have a set amount that we give and plan to set aside other money in case something comes that we feel is deserving of our money.

  31. Anonymous

    I agree with Matt. I didn’t give to the Haiti relief because I prefer to give to local needs. Actually, I’m still trying to find a church that focuses more on needs in America than outside America. So far no luck.

    I have a friend whose church is doing a fundraiser for a trip to Africa. I won’t be donating because I know there are areas in our own country that could use the resources just as much as Africa.

  32. Anonymous

    I’m on a similar page as Michael above.

    Based on the assumption that every human is equally important, I can’t justify giving any money in the US when exchange rates multiply the impact of my giving severalfold when I give in other countries.

    In my view, to give to US charities is to explicitly decide that people in the US are more valuable than those elsewhere.

  33. Anonymous

    @Matt – we agree on many subjects, but this one is a little different for me. I am a strong believer in giving internationally because I take the view that all human beings are equal. Because of this, it makes a great deal of sense to me to put dollars to use overseas where they can go much further than here at home.

    Beyond that, I really like which is a San Francisco based charity that specializes in channeling funds to entrepreneurs in developing countries through microlending. In the United States, we are fortunate enough to have one of the most highly developed financial systems in the world that (when working properly) can meet the needs of virtually everyone that needs credit. In developing countries, these facilities either don’t exist or are still in a relatively crude state (crude states increase transaction costs and fail to meet the needs of wide swaths of consumers).

    While we still give to other charities that are local or national, we really like Kiva because it allows our dollars to go further, be recycled, and multiply through economic output in less developed countries. For the individual entrepreneur in Africa, they can earn money to support their family and pay taxes to support their country. If the business grows, they can employ their neighbors, at some point, maybe their employees are ready to start their own business…and on…and on…

    By the way, we had a fire a little over a decade ago. We were insured so we didn’t need anything, but even with that, it was an experience that left a lasting impression. The phone number the firefighters gave us to call for assistance was for the local chapter of the American Red Cross. It wasn’t to a church or a local charity, it was to a national charity that has strong local programs beyond what we see in the news.

    At any rate, a great question to consider, but for our family, we spread it around…though I feel best when giving to Kiva.

    If you’re interested in Kiva, go to their website and see what they do. Read the stories. You can either give straight up or become a lender or be a little of both.

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