Overwhelmed with all the world’s problems? Here’s how to stop feeling futile and actually get involved

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Meet Wellness Collective, our new, immersive curriculum with Athleta that hooks you up with actionable advice from the smartest experts and brand founders in wellness right now. Get the goods at our monthly event series in New York City, plus our online one-month wellness plans. Here, Get Out Stay Out founder Karen Ramos shares her advice on how to choose a charity to support.

Staring at a giant menu of salad options is enough to strike decision paralysis into even the most decisive of people. So if you’re struggling to pick a cause to support—when there are so. many. options. and there’s a lot more at stake than what’s for lunch—you’re definitely not alone.

Because let’s face it: There’s a lot of need in our world. From disaster relief to disease research and social justice, there are a lot of worthy causes but only one of you. So how do you decide what to commit to, and not ignore issues entirely simply from being overwhelmed?

Karen Ramos—founder and executive director of the nonprofit Get Out Stay Out, an outdoor excursion program for indigenous migrant youth—landed on her own passion project after a lot of self reflection, which gave her the wisdom to share her process with others.

“I began reflecting on my own outlets and experiences, and I kept coming back to the outdoors,” she says. “The outdoors offered the perfect environment to foster interpersonal growth and be a catalyst for greater social change. I was no stranger to […] the transformative impact outdoor programming could have on youth from marginalized communities.”

Her experience led her to founding her own nonprofit, but if you’re not in a position to go full DIY, Ramos has some advice on how to sort through the options to find a cause you can feel excited about—and commit to—supporting.

Keep reading for her guide on how to choose a charity or cause to support, broken down into a four-week process because important things take time.

Ramos’ number-one piece of advice for people searching for a passion project? “Ask for help and be shameless,” she says. “Be ready to be ignored. If someone is where you want to be or doing something you want to do, ask them how they got there, be grateful for their time, and keep looking, keep asking.”

Dedicate this week to identifying the people in your life who you can tap as a resource—whether it’s to pick their brain about how they got involved in their community or to get more details on the specific organization they lead or support. Gathering as much info as possible will be key to assessing which direction you want to go. And if you’re reading this article, you’re already off to a good start.

Once you’ve had those conversations, start thinking about the causes that strike an emotional chord with you. You’ll be much more likely to continue to give your time, effort, or money if you feel a connection with the organization you select.

Starting Get Out Stay Out was personal for Ramos because it was born out of a desire to help migrant students (who reminded her of herself as a child) learn how to be proud of their heritage, and take part in outdoor programming with leaders that actually reflect themselves and their community.

Follow her lead, and this week ask yourself what issues stir up emotions for you. Ramos suggests examining your insecurities, passions, past experiences, and areas you’d like to see changed.

“Opting to support a cause you have a personal connection with will make you more inclined to give and it will hold so much more meaning,” she says. “I think it forms a more long-term relationship and benefits both the beneficiary and the donor.”

how to choose a charity

If you’ve written off supporting a cause in the past because you felt limited by either your schedule or your bank account—don’t. Ramos stresses that organizations often need contributions of all different types, so if your willingness to contribute is there, there will be a space for you to help.

“I think in a way we need to redefine what we think of as donors or giving people,” she says. “Anyone can be a donor. Look past just what monetary value you can donate. If your budget for giving monetarily is currently maxed out, look at what other forms of capital you are able to contribute.” Depending on the situation, that could look like donating food, gently used clothes, or your marketing skills.

Conversely, don’t just assume that all community service means volunteering. “Look for opportunities to volunteer, but acknowledge if all [the organization] needs currently is financial support,” she says.

Finally, assess how you feel once you’ve identified a cause. “When you find an org to support, ask yourself, are they being genuine? Are they actually walking the walk or just talking the talk? Do they have genuine connections to the constituency they are serving?” says Ramos. “And lastly, when you give, how do you feel? It should always feel good!”

But even Ramos admits that she can fall into feeling like she isn’t making much of a difference. In those moments, try to focus on what good you are doing through your service.

“First, acknowledge it is not your job to fix all the world’s problems,” she says. “I take a break and disconnect from the news for a little bit, and I look around at the small but impactful changes being made in my community. Then I get reenergized to fight harder.”

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Top photo: Zach Ayers

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