Ten Great Charities that Deserve Your Dollars This Year
These are difficult economic times, but I'm getting tired of being told to spend my money on stuff, as if my personal saving habits are somehow ruining the economy. I'm no economist, and maybe I'm full of crap, but it seems to me that when I save money by putting it in a bank account or investing it in stocks via my retirement plan, I am directly addressing the core problem of the economy right now--liquidity--in a much more direct way than if I were to go to the dollar store and stock up on easter decorations that I don't want anyway. I have a different proposition. Instead of throwing money at retailers, let's throw it at people who really need it--the poor and disenfranchised who are most at risk in an economic downturn. Here are my top ten charity picks. I'd love to know what your favorites are, and will post a followup in a week or so with an updated list of recommended charities. [Update: and now there are ten!]
This is an amazing organization founded by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter with a unique mission. Many of us are ardent supporters of disease foundations that seek to find a cure for a devastating disease such as cancer. The Carter Foundation seeks to bring known cures for terrible diseases to third world nations that cannot afford them. The Carter foundation is currently campaigning to eradicate guinea worm, a painful and dangerous parasitic infection, from the world. Guinea worm is easily prevented by filtering drinking water. However, many countries in Africa have been too poor to distribute simple coffee filters so that people can remove the worm larvae from their drinking water. The Carter foundation has made an amazing difference in saving millions of people from guinea worm at a cost of pennies per person. This is a very powerful use of your dollars, and if you have just a few dollars to donate, this is the charity that will stretch those dollars the most. The Carter Center has a five star rating on Charity Navigator, with a high percentage of donation going to actual program expenses.
This is a child sponsorship charity with which I've had an amazingly good experience. For $30 a month, I sponsor a child to receive assistance through the foundation. Assistance includes education and basic needs. I am able to correspond with the child, and we have exchanged many letters and photos. CCFA gives you the option to choose a young child, an older child, or an elderly person to receive assistance, or you can choose the person most in need. I took the last option, and I promptly received a packet describing a child named Luis in Guatamala. I really wish I could publish the series of three pictures I received from the foundation, but that would not be considerate of his privacy. Luis was about 12, and in the first picture he looked very small for his age, was wearing ill-fitting clothes, and looked thoroughly miserable. A year later, I had a picture of a very handsome young man with a bright smile. Luis sends me wonderful letters which he always illustrates with colored pencil drawings. I am very proud of him, and I hope to one day take advantage of the CCFA travel program, which provides very reasonable accommodations for a visit with your sponsored child. Because of the differential in cost of living between the US and Guatamala, I am able to make a huge difference in one child's life while making a small sacrifice in my own. In fact, it's kind of embarassing, the gratitude that he has expressed, considering that $30 is an amount I can easily spend on nothing. CCFA also gets five stars on Charity Navigator.
The Red Cross gets only two stars from charity navigator, indicating they need improvement in efficiency. Still, there's no other organization with the scope and vision of the Red Cross, and they are the only place you can donate blood instead of money. If you are able, consider giving at least a pint of blood to the red cross. The Red Cross does a great deal of disaster relief work. When my family was on vacation in Michigan's upper peninsula, in 2007, a major forest fire started within a few miles of our campground. We were not affected, but as it turned out, the Red Cross set up a tent with relief supplies near the firefighter's headquarters. Maybe they aren't the most efficienty charity working in this space, but I didn't see any other charities showing up at Four Corners crossings in da UP to offer relief to people who may be injured or displaced. I believe in this organization and will continue to support it. Some day, if my life calms down enough, I hope to become a trained Red Cross disaster volunteer in my community. (I looked at the training courses recently and sadly am not able to attend.)
This organization is doing critical relief work around the world. Right now, as we speak, there is a horrifying situation in Sri Lanka with tens of thousands of people trapped in a very small area, caught in cross fire between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tiger rebels. the ICRC is the only aid organization with any access at all to this region, so if youw ant to help, this is the place to send your dollars. This is a terrible situation. News media have not been allowed in, but there are reports that people are using sheets of plastic for shelter and that bombs are falling among the crowds. These are people who are going to need immediate and comprehensive assistance as soon as they can be extracted from the situation.
What can you say about Habitat? Great charity, doing great work. They don't just give away houses, they make people work their butts off for them. This is a charity that strengthens communities, puts people in homes, and doesn't wreck the economy while doing it. They deserve your support.
I was going to recommend St. Jude Children's Hospital, but when I did some research, they seemed to have an unacceptably high overhead as opposed to the amount of donations that actually go to research and helping people. Instead, consider Doernbecher, which has a similar mission, and a five star rating on charity navigator.
This is an organization helping another trapped group of people--civilians in Gaza. I have a solicitation from them right here in my incoming mail box, and after looking them up online, I feel very comfortable sending a contribution.
8. Your local church, department of human services, or animal shelter
There are some needs that are best addressed locally. Consider contributions to your church or your local animal shelter. (Do not contribute to the HSUS until you have researched the organization. You may not agree with their goals or tactics, and they are not normally affiliated with the "humane society" in your town.) Also check with your state government or county human services department about organizations that help foster children. Foster children are some of the most needy, most disenfranchised people in our society. Often there are not enough beds in foster homes for them, so they live in unstable, crowded conditions. Children who have not been abused when they enter care often end up being abused by the time they leave care, and due to frequent moves between homes, they have a hard time holding onto possessions. Many small charities collect money to purchase simple things like suitcases and Christmas presents for foster children. Children aging out of the foster system need a lot of help getting started in life, as well, and in this economy, it's not as easy for them to find jobs, much less go to college. You might also consider becoming a foster parent. It's not for everyone, but there is such a great need, and most people find it very rewarding.
This isn't actually a recommendation for a place to donate your money, since they don't seem to be actively soliciting donations. Instead, I want to share with you this story of Denny Sanford's $400 million gift to Sioux Falls Health System. Unlike many philanthropists, Sanford did not dictate the research mission of the hospital when he made the gift. Instead, he solicited proposals from scientists for a project that would completely cure a disease within his remaining life span. He's kind of old, so it's going to be a horse race! The process was judged by scientists, and the winner was type I diabetes. Research at Sanford Health will focus on curing Type I diabetes through beta cell regeneration, as quickly as possible. I mention it here in case anyone has a significant gift or bequest and may be interested in joining Sanford in this mission, or perhaps using Sanford's process to start their own research institution or foundation! This is philanthropy done right. [Update: You CAN contribute to Sanford Health. Go to www.sanfordproject.com and click on "Make a Gift Online."]
Thanks to the commentors, I can now complete my list of ten, which I started and got stuck at number nine. (Math and blogging don't mix for me.) This is another charity that introduces itself. Nobel-prize winning, courageous, important. I am a supporter and I hope you will be, too.
Now, go! Make a leap of faith. Give your money away, and it will return to you tenfold, or so the saying goes. With an ROI like that, we can have 1000% growth in our economy in no time. What are your favorite charities? What are the best? The worst?