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Why I give directly: The power of choice

In the second post of our “why I give directly” blog series, Charlotte Grinberg writes about why she and her husband give directly – and encourage others to do the same.


When my husband proposed, in front of our closest friends and two kind strangers with a cellphone, he did what I dreamed he would do: donate a month’s wages to GiveDirectly in lieu of a shiny engagement ring. Then came the best part: asking our guests to donate to GiveDirectly in place of a traditional registry. That, and you know, getting married.

While effective giving has brought my husband and me closer, our wedding choices definitely met resistance. We were told we were throwing our money away. I think this happened in part because it is surprising to challenge marriage customs, but also because the idea of giving cash directly to the poor makes many people think, “How can you trust that they will use the money well?”

Through my fieldwork as a medical anthropologist and my training as a medical student, I continue to witness how humanitarian institutions are all too often out of line with what people truly need. I have worked at clinics where costly medications and procedures are subsidized, but where the patients say they most need proper food, transportation, and housing. We can give a week’s supply of blood pressure pills, but not the twenty dollars the patient needs to pay for an ID to apply for insurance. Many people feel comfortable providing resources in the form of medication, but with cash they quickly panic and wonder if giving is the right thing to do.

The evidence-based model and outcomes of GiveDirectly have taught me how to critically evaluate this somewhat arbitrary status quo in giving. Variability exists on both an individual and community level, thanks to the unpredictability of life and complex geo-socio-political contexts, making it incredibly difficult to know what is necessary for any one person.

What I do know is that choice is powerful. Deciding to donate to GiveDirectly was a choice that my husband and I made, which has sparked incredible conversations with friends and family about charity, and in the end we received generous donations from our guests. Because of our choice to support GiveDirectly, we continue to feel empowered and fulfilled. The most meaningful part is that GiveDirectly pays the choice forward. It gives recipients not just slight relief from poverty, but the opportunity to make their own decisions, empowering them to find fulfillment on their own.