Three Ways to Translate Anger Into Action

Fight for what’s right while maintaining your sanity.

Inciting “resistance fatigue” seems to be a consistent part of Trump’s blitzkrieg policy plan: stretch the attention of media and government, limiting anyone’s ability to push back. No one person will be able to fight every battle they care about in the next four years, and that’s by design. He even filed early for 2020 candidate status, so any political non-profit may risk losing their non-profit status due to “Political Campaign Intervention”.

Facing this cynical full court press, I often felt drained, and needed a new approach. After talking with experts and friends, here are three frameworks to help you stay sane, feel great, and maximize your impact:

Choose 1–3 Areas of Focus.

Recognize you can’t do everything. Some folks burn out trying to keep up with everything and have outsized influence. If you feel like that’s you right now: Remember that you’re one person alongside millions, so it’s OK to expect a sustainable amount of effort from yourself. Increase the time you spend explicitly on recharging. You can’t help others if you’re burned out.

Stay happy and healthy. Focus on the positive side (for instance, huge donation surges, AirBnB offering free housing to those effected, and congresspeople going to Dallas airport in person, after Customs and Border Patrol refused to obey court orders).

With that stable foundation, choose 1–3 areas of focus. These are issues that you feel mostly strongly about. These are the issues you’re willing to show up for in marches, volunteer for in person, call your representatives about, create Twitter lists for experts in the field, and learn deeply about over time.

For the other issues: no need to ignore them, but keep healthy boundaries. Know that others prioritized them, in the same way that you prioritized your own. You can always change your focus later, if you an issue you care about is chronically under-supported. But resist the urge to respond to every new offense.

Then, if you can afford to, “delegate” these other issues to organizations that specialize in them (via petitions, retweets, donations, etc). I list my favorites here. You only have enough mental and emotional energy to dive deeply into a few issues, but this can spread your influence. Which brings us to…

Set a Sustainable Budget for Action.

Non-profits will have two kinds of efforts you can support: Let’s call them programs and emergencies.

Programs are the stated goals of the org — they’re building wells for drinking water, providing pro-bono legal advice, or jobs for under-privileged groups.

Emergencies are time-sensitive events that fall under the organization’s mission, but weren’t planned for — the court cases filed within hours of the #MuslimBan, a natural disaster, or even just a friend or stranger in need.

Emergencies typically generate press coverage and the most donations for organizations, and that’s great. But sustained, monthly donations work wonders for the really hard stuff. They offer more financial security, allowing them to budget more effectively, plan more ambitious programs, hire and train qualified staff, etc. (Plus, you can get rewards!)

My favorite technique I’ve heard is this:

  1. Pick a steady budget you can afford. It doesn’t have to be big, but it really helps if it’s sustained. (This may also help your mental state, switching from re-active mode to pro-active, regularly, on issues you care about.)
  2. Start by allocating monthly donation levels to the 1–3 areas you focused on. Expand to others as you see fit.
  3. Hold back a 20% “Emergency Fund”. This will help pay for things you can’t predict, like a friend’s medical bills, or the next Hurricane Katrina.

For example, a $1,000/year budget is not cheap, but still less than a coffee a day. That could mean…

  • Two areas of focus get $20/month, two get $10/month, one gets $5/month, leaving $220 available at a moment’s notice.
  • Or you might go all-in: $800 to one organization close to you, over 12 months, with $200 held back for emergencies.

Budgeting can apply to monthly hours of volunteer work too, with your areas of focus. Whether with money or time, a sustainable budget gives you important milestones to see progress and healthy boundaries you can depend on. Whatever your split, choose what feels right to you, at a level you feel good about sustaining. Then, put that time and money to work!

Donate According to Your Budget.

Now that you have your areas of focus, and a budget, the question is, which organizations??

Some people have deep connections to a single issue, and they feel best directing all their time, money, and energy toward it.

For my part, I’m choosing a variety, each with a specific role that reflects something I find important. You might call it a “portfolio” approach. There’s a real sense of gratitude — the feeling of knowing you’re funding passionate experts working “on your behalf” on a range of causes you care about.

I’ve shared more in a separate post here, detailing the thinking behind my “portoflio” approach and all the other organizations I considered: Where I’m Donating (Besides the ACLU).

To find your own, overall, I’d say pick an area of focus, research, and ultimately go with your gut. Personally, I had most success going back and forth between Google and Twitter. Google will uncover lists like “best [topic] non-profits.” Build a short list this way. On Twitter, those orgs are often mentioned in tweets alongside similar orgs. They may retweet similar organizations they respect. Twitter is also great for asking experts in relevant fields which organizations they think do great work. In fact, you may find some already in their timeline. Follow these breadcrumbs to expand your list, then return to Google to check them out.

People often like to check sites like Charity Navigator to see what portion of donations go directly to services. A high score is good, but keep in mind it’s an imperfect measure that can restrict a non-profit’s ability to grow. So look out for scams, but take good-not-great scores that with a grain of salt.

Quick tactical notes

  • Check Matching Donations before you donate, to find matching funds, effectively doubling or tripling your contributions.
  • Consider first what the org of your choice needs most — money? time? gifts? — and when possible, give in the way they prefer.
  • When you donate, also sign up on their email action lists, if you haven’t already. Follow them on social media. These are valuable communications channels for them, and you’ll get the encouragement of regular updates, with progress on issues you care about.

So with that, let’s get started! Focus, budget, and start donating your time or money. And above all, don’t forget to take breaks and laugh.