Although this is the third most popular type of giving, this is still a giant category. Human services encompasses all types of assistance that go directly towards helping people. Some of these services are visible to all of us on a daily basis, some are more “behind the scenes”. A new development in this area, for example, is the rise of the “navigator”. These individuals work for non-profits that specialize in helping the less fortunate among us find, use and coordinate all of the various services that are available. In many cases, particularly in large metro areas, there are numerous overlapping agencies working to solve a single problem (e.g. homelessness). This can be confusing to those in search of help. In addition, many of those who are suffering in poverty are experiencing multiple, simultaneous issues (e.g. domestic abuse AND homelessness AND addiction). Navigators help individuals and families manage these combined challenges by pairing them up with multiple agencies and tracking their progress.
Ok, so why I am bringing this up? Well, I’m mentioning it because this is one area where those of us who have been fortunate enough to not experience the trauma of poverty may not fully appreciate the range of issues that are covered by human services organizations. That noted, here are some focus areas to consider when evaluating your priorities and causes that you may be interested in supporting:
- Food banks / pantries
- Homeless shelters (day and night)
- Addiction services
- Mental Health services
- Domestic Abuse shelters / housing
- Foster care transition services
- Adult education
- Clothing banks
- Teen pregnancy resources
- Veteran assistance
- Suicide hotlines / resources
And here is list of human services giving that I do not support:
- Giving to people on street corners
NOTE: I know, I know: I said that I don’t judge where you give. And I definitely don’t think that helping others, one on one, is a bad thing. But this type of giving goes against my core belief that you should have an intentional giving plan. It falls directly into the “reacting to asks” category. And it certainly doesn’t fall into the category of leveraging your giving. If this is something that you get satisfaction from, I highly suggest that you determine an annual (or monthly) amount that you want to give to random strangers and then stick with it. For me, knowing that I give a substantial amount to organizations who are working to reduce the systemic problems of joblessness and homelessness makes it easier to decline these requests.
In my experience, human services is one of the most emotive and gratifying focus areas to donate to. The need is huge and immediate. People in our communities are suffering right now. It also has the highest number of organizations and the most dysfunction among them. (Might be because it is focused on PEOPLE, ha ha!!) If this is the area that you choose to give to, I highly suggest looking into the details of what your chosen non-profit does before you commit your dollars to them.
Also, in my experience, individuals and families give in this category because they feel morally compelled to do so. I encounter relatively few people who give to human services because they experienced domestic violence or teen pregnancy themselves. Some persons decide not to give in this category because they believe in a “hand up not hand out”. But if that’s you, don’t run away too fast… there are plenty of human services organizations that agree with you and are focused on long term change. It’s just a matter of finding the right one. On the other hand, if you are inclined to support those who are suffering now, you are in luck! Human services can also be for you.
In addition, this category has a number of special tax breaks associated with it, depending upon the state that you live in. If you are moved by these causes, and they align with your values, then there are substantial financial benefits to giving to (some) human services organizations. More on this in the future, as it is key to how I both give and grow my hoard!