Yes, there are dangers, e.g. that some people will pick up their copy of OXFAM or SIERRA magazine and say “There! I have saved the world.” and walk away. This certainly happens.
Another danger is that the citizen will be talked into joining an org that is all show and no substance, or whose efficiency score is very low, devoting most of the dues-income to further fund raising, or a magazine that is too expensive and glossy.
But I just don’t see these as major problems, compared to the benefits. What happens more often is an interesting psychological quirk. Simply by virtue of having joined one activist group, a member starts to think of herself or himself as THAT type of person. It is easier to persuade them to donate double-dues to that org, next year. Or to join another organization that will address yet another sector of that person’s own perceived problem-space.
Essentially, what Proxy Power does is offer a wide array of activism PRODUCTS to consumers, well-packaged and pursued by devoted staff. It is a capitalist-style market of competing organizations - often using gloss and style as part of their pitch - presenting the potential small donor with a whole supermarket of philanthropic or activist choices.
Isn’t that what we want? (And yes, some of our chosen charities will oppose or cancel each other! Some of you out there send money to the Heritage Foundation, which opposes my libertarians and democrats in almost all ways, acting relentlessly to re-establish rule by aristocratic lords. So?
The whole pragmatic process of the Enlightenment has been to foster lots of open ferment and competition. When it works, the result is a NET movement for the good of all. It is when such groups act to squelch others, erect barriers of secrecy, or evade debate, that we get a warped process.)
I am convinced that we need to look at this whole realm of activity with more than a cynical glance. It is working. It is doing good. Moreover, it does not ask of our fellow citizens - the busy ones, with frenetic jobs and school schedules - more time than they feel they can commit. (And time is the precious limited commodity!)
Some contend that, by taking this approach, you fritter your charity dollars in small bits, when a single, large donation may have more direct impact. There is some validity to this point. On the other hand, this ignores how your contribution is effectively doubledin an interesting way, each time you join a worthy group. Because they then also gain political impact and momentum, with every increase of membership rolls. As their paid numbers increase, they are better able to lobby... or to approach large donors and say “help leverage our momentum with a big contribution.” (This means that poor students, who join at the Student Rate, are still doing good.)
Finally, there is a service to you, the donor. You get to create a profile of your own personality, your passion and commitment, by choosing a dozen groups who will be your deputies in saving the world, while you are too busy to save it, yourself.
Indeed, this concept may deserve some stimulating investment by bigtime philanthropy! I have long felt that a helluva lot of good could be accomplished by some millionaire funding a small effort to get PROXY POWER out there, as a universal desideratum. One million dollars, spent pump-priming, in order to get a million Americans to do this, multiplying the results 500 fold.....
Think about it. Radicals of all kinds are already connected and tithing (and marching and arm-twisting politicians). But moderate citizens? Yes, they send a check and bags of clothes in a crisis. But day to day? The world seems frustratingly big and daunting. “What can I do?” They (reasonably) ask.
What if someone got on TV and showed how huge is the vast array of excellent active organizations, and further said: “No one is trying to convert you to pick any one of these. But if you don’t choose a FEW... sending dues to groups that you believe will help to save the world the way you want it saved... then aren’t you simply part of the problem?”
What about a nice web site devoted to this? Or better, a clearing house that scored and rated several hundred of these groups, so that folks could pick exactly which ones they want to encourage?
PS.... how to deal with the subsequent junk mail from all these organizations? Some - on their membership forms - have a box telling them “don’t send me the magazine!” On the other hand, you can strategically leave the magiazine where it might do some good, at a library or barbers shop... just deface your address first.
==For a broader perspective, see: Horizons and Hope: The Future of Philanthropy