When we hear it’s Autism Awareness Month the charitable instincts inside us kick in. Sometimes we charge into action with the best intentions, but without the right information to make the best decisions. There are 5 questions everyone involved needs to ask first if they want to be sure they are making the greatest difference. It does not matter who you are…so if you’re a celebrity, corporation or just a dedicated supporter there are some things you need to know. They are Who, What, Why, Where & How? It sounds like a cliché or plain old common sense, but our take on these questions might surprise you.
- Who do I want to help? (the Cause, the People, the Professionals)
Find out about the cause. Learn about Autism, and not just the statistics. If you answered “I want to help Autism” then we’d explore what about autism you want to help? The first step has already been accomplished…wanting to get involved and help. But now the real question is who or what inspired me to want to help the Autism cause. Figure it out from the point of view you have…what’s important to you? Is it the Cause, the needs of Children and Families, the Professionals, Other Services…remember you need to decide.
- What am I doing to help? (Donating, Appearing, Sponsoring)
Once you understand the cause and who you want to help it’s time to ask what I am doing to make that help realized. Knowing is half the battle, right? So knowing what you are participating in is crucial. Is it an event, awareness campaign, donation, appearance, fundraiser, sponsorship or is it something else. Don’t do something just because it’s popular or support an organization simply because of name recognition. Make informed decisions and do what you feel is right.
- Why I am helping? (Help People, Help Research, Help Awareness)
This is the connection to the cause. “I want to help families with direct support”, “I want to help research find a cure”, “I want to encourage people to help” there are several reason why we help, and sometimes the reasons are more personal like for “my son”, “my niece”, my brother among others as well. This is your compass guiding your heart and support for this cause you care deeply about. A word of caution here…some organizations use celebrities, similar imagery and fundraisers, but support completely different things…so make sure you know why your helping.
- Where does the Money Go? (Direct Help, Research, Lobbyists, Other)
This is always where the rubber meets the road. Seems easy enough, but as in any meaningful endeavor there is more to it than meets the eye. After answering the first 3 questions this is something you already thought about…but if you find this a difficult question to answer then ask the organization or event where the money goes. You might be surprised one way or the other. Large events in your community may not even give money to people in your town or even your state, instead the money goes to costs and to the corporate headquarters instead of to the cause. So if you want to help in your community you might be better off supporting a smaller organization with established relationships compared to the national big box charity because of a name.
For Example: If you said “I want to help families with direct support” then make sure that is where the money goes. If you raise money for organizations that do not provide direct support to families with Autism…don’t be surprised when the money goes to research, political lobbyists or somewhere else. In other words if you’re supporting research make sure you are supporting research…If you’re supporting help for children and families with Autism make sure the money is helping them. Ask some directly in the cause. If you want to help families with autism then ask families with autism what they think about an event or an organization…they might tell you something you need to know. Don’t assume that every walk for Autism is the same. They may both involve walking but who the beneficiaries are could be very different…so find out.
- How does this impact those I originally set out to help? (People, Research, Awareness, Other)
This is the goal you originally set out to reach. Did I do something that contributed to making a difference for the people I set out to help? If you answered questions 1-4 you already know you did make a difference. When you understand the cause you want to help, the people involved, what you are going to do and where the money goes…You will have done more than simply meet the need…you will exceed even your own expectations.