Hugh Macleod, gapingvoid, http://gapingvoid.com​

Hugh Macleod, gapingvoid, http://gapingvoid.com​

‘Tis the season of giving, and many of us look for ways to give to the neediest among us by donating to nonprofits, volunteering to serve holiday dinners, or contributing clothing, toys, and supplies.

But is giving back through acts of kindness enough? Should our philanthropy be able to fight the causes of inequality? Is it time for a re-imagined gospel of wealth? These are some of the piercing questions asked in a recent NY Times OpEd piece by Ford Foundation president Darren Walker.   

Walker’s piece got me thinking about the questions he raised, and about how to give back in a way that really can make a difference not just in the symptoms of a problem, but in their cause.

Gospel of Wealth

Walker notes that formal philanthropy may date from Andrew Carnegie’s 1889 Gospel of Wealth, which stated that the self-made wealthy have an obligation to re-distribute their surplus to the less fortunate.

Over the years, the families of the Gates, Rockefellers, Mellons et al., have given billions to support causes including education, food, medicine, agriculture, and more. And yet, Walker says, “society’s challenges may have outpaced philanthropy’s resources.”

Giving back, he says, should fund people, ideas, and organizations that can address more than wealth disparity. What we need to think about, he says, is how to address root causes and how to empower the people most affected by inequality: women, children, racial minorities, the poor, religious and ethnic minorities, and L.G.B.T. individuals.

Who gets the money now?

Looking at charity from Walker’s new paradigm, organizations that deserve the most support are those that give disadvantaged people the tools they need to make changing their lives possible.

Before you give, research beyond the glossy appeals and social media campaigns. Seek organizations whose programs are devoted to eliminating the problems they serve so that your gift will have impact long after the giving season ends.

B.L. Ochman (@whatsnext on Twitter) is a digital strategist for Fortune 500 companies and a contributor to Innovairre Communications, which supports more than 500 nonprofit organizations around the world. Contact us at Answers@Innovairre.comFollow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.