In the summer of 2001, my cousin Nakul was bitten by a mosquito. Because of that mosquito bite, he contracted Dengue fever, a disease that causes fever, severe headaches, muscle and joint pain. He died within days after suffering tremendously. In the end, his body crackled like fire. I’ve been told by relatives who were at the hospital in India during his passing that while he was suffering in a state of delirium, all he could muster up the energy to do was whimper for an apple. I think about him almost daily, for many reasons.

I don’t bring up the circumstances surrounding his death as a sob story meant to inspire some group of people to rally behind a campaign to prevent vector-borne diseases. I don’t mention it as a way to honor him — Nakul contracted the first case of Dengue fever in his area of India, which allowed medical professionals to act quickly in subsequent cases and save many lives — or as a way for me to come to terms with his death. I bring him up as one vivid, narrow example of the utterly terrible things that can happen to a person. I bring him up to argue one point: don’t stop donating.

Non-profit organizations make a world of difference in solving social problems. We need non-profit organizations to serve community needs that businesses and government cannot (or will not) address. If there had been better medical facilities or public health initiatives in India, for example, Nakul might be alive today. There are many examples of non-profits making a difference in the communities they serve, whether it’s the work of organizations that provide after-school programs for high school students or humanitarian aid to countries ravaged by war.

If we are at all capable of financially supporting non-profits, we have a social responsibility to do so even during times of economic downturn because of the impact they have on the individual communities they serve and on society as a whole. Most of us here are probably financially stable enough to support non-profits, even if we have immediate family members who are unemployed or are burdened with student loans.

If you have enough money to go out on a Friday night, order one less beer and give the money you saved to your favorite charity via an online donation or to the kid bucketing outside at 2 a.m. A college student who owns a cell phone, iPod or working television has more wealth than much of the world’s population. There are people in the world who need the $10 bill in our pockets more than we do. For most, choosing not to donate money to non-profit organizations is more often due to an absence of commitment than an absence of cash.

If you can make a donation to a non-profit organization — even a small one — the organization will appreciate it. Tough economic times are when non-profits need the most support. But if you can’t make a substantial donation, there are many other ways to support the missions of non-profits. Consider volunteering on a committee or board of a non-profit organization that inspires you.

On campus, it’s even easier to volunteer time and energy. You could volunteer to be a moraler dancers at the University of Michigan Dance Marathon this weekend or attend the Luminaria ceremony at Relay for Life in two weeks. If community service is your thing, participate in the Detroit Partnership’s service day or one of their many weekly opportunities. Will Work for Food, a non-profit organization started by students at the University that provides an innovative model for raising funds and serving one’s own community simultaneously, is another worthy charity.

I’ll never know if Nakul’s life would have been saved if there had been stronger public health non-profits in India. But it’s not about me; there are better reasons to have a stake in the success of non-profit organizations. Non-profits make crucial contributions to our locale, nation and world. But they’ll never get the chance to make a difference if we walk away from funding them.

Neil Tambe can be reached at ntambe@umich.edu

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