How, and Where, to Give Wisely this Season

Wednesday, November 26, 2008
A friend emailed me the other day on the topic of Indians and charity. She said she has the sense that Indians give a lower percentage of their incomes to charity than other communities. We are one of the wealthiest communities in the U.S.; does that translate to us being one of the most generous? I don’t think there are any official numbers available on this, but I sadly have the feeling it's not the case.

Of course, in this economic climate, it’s not easy for a lot of people to give when they see pink slips, housing prices tanks, and the cost of just about everything get higher. (Except gas! I just paid less than two dollars per gallon, woah.)

But as countries around the world cut down on charitable donations and programs, it’s even more crucial to give to them. And it’s important to remember that, while we are feeling the pinch on our wallets, the poor around the world are feeling it even harder. When poor communities stop receiving aid, people in them die.

But whom to give to, and how do you know your donations are going to those in need -- especially when they're being used in far-away countries? Here's what I found out.

Charity Navigator is a great website that evaluates charities based on their efficiency. If you have a favorite charity, type the name in and see how financially effective it is. The website also has a few basic tips for charity-giving this season:

--> The most efficient charities spend at least 75% of their budgets on programs and services, with the remaining 25% or less spent on administrative and fundraising costs. They also don’t excessively compensate their CEOs.

--> Consumers that buy directly from their favorite, well-run charities, rather than purchasing cause-related products from retailers, make the biggest philanthropic impact.

--> Give to charities that help the less fortunate. Charities like food banks, rescue missions and utility assistance charities need an influx of contributions this holiday season.

With these tips in mind, here are a few charities that are worth giving to this season. We’re focusing on charities that help children, but this list is by no means comprehensive.In fact, if you have a favorite charity or cause that you give to, please tell us and our readers!

Adopt-A-Family by Brighter Beginnings
Brighter Beginnings is a United Way organization that provides resources and help for young children and their families in need. This rewarding charity program couldn’t be simpler, and it’s a little like becoming Santa Claus.

First, pick a family or individual online by reading about them. (For example, “Doria is a single mom of 2 boys, ages 6 months and 2 years. She comes from a broken home and grew up primarily in foster care. She is currently living in shared housing because she cannot afford her own place. She recently gave birth to a son and is unable to work due to health problems.”) You’ll see their wishlist, which often involves things like diapers, warm clothing, formula and toys. It’s up to you how much or how little you’d like to give.

Buy the items, or give unused items from your kid’s closet, and drop them off at a location near you. My friend who did this last year received a sweet letter from the family she had adopted expressing their appreciation. It’s a personal way of giving, you know that your entire gift will go straight to the person in need, and you can even involve your kids in it.

Kids for a Better Future
Every year at this time, instead of accepting gifts for his birthday, my nephew Akash asks for donations to his organization. Kids for a Better Future has funded organizations that helped build a girls’ school in Herat, Afghanistan, and that helped provide education, health care, and shelter to former child soldiers in the Congo.

This year, Akash is going to India to support the Sambhavna Trust Clinic in Bhopal, which helps treat victims of Union Carbide gas disaster, the worst industrial accident in history. He’s also received a challenge grant from The Unemployed Philosophers Guild that will double any contributions he gets from people who have not contributed to his birthday appeal before. I have worked at the Sambhavna Clinic before, and can attest to the important work they do in a community that cannot afford the care that the local hospitals give. 100% of all proceeds Akash raises will go to the clinic.

Asha for Education
A whopping 98.7% of Asha’s expenses go directly to its programs, making it one of the most efficient large charities out there. Asha provides education to the underprivileged children of America. Anyone who’s visited India, or even just watched the amazing, recently released movie Slumdog Millionaire (if you haven't seen this movie, go see it ASAP), knows how dire the needs of these children are. Asha has chapters throughout the world, and programs which make it easy to get involved if you have more time than money. Asha also has a great opportunity you can involve your child in: the Support a Child program, which allows you to support a single child in India for as little as $10 a month. You can receive progress reports, write to and receive letters from to the child, and even arrange to visit the child in India. How great is that?

Oxfam’s Health & Education Campaign
Among its many campaigns, Oxfam helps provide healthcare to underprivileged pregnant women throughout the world. That’s something to dance around about. In fact, check out the video below to actually see pregnant women dancing about it! (Don’t worry, the breakdancers are not actually pregnant….)

Let us know your favorite charity or cause this season!
deepa said...

We sponsor a child through Children International and it seems like a great, well-run charity. Plus, it gives you some great party banter--we sponsored the child before we were married, so when we got bored at parties we could say things to unsuspecting aunties like: "Have we told you about our son Ayan in India?" Haha.

Anonymous said...

We have a family tradition where we spend an afternoon working at a soup kitchen during the thanksgiving weekend.

Find your local soup kitchen and ladle!

Anonymous said...

Despite the dire times, there's always time to give.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this list, I have been looking for a place to contribute to this year and the adopt a family program looks to be a good one. Do you know if we can give used but in good condition items to them?

SUP said...

Have been giving to Asha for years. A solid organization.

Archana said...

Great post and great organizations. Check out this new forum on South Asians and giving: I hope you'll join the conversation - I'm also going to do a post soon on holiday giving. We usually give to our respective religious organizations, and then to various charities doing good work - Interplast, the Prasad Project, Amnesty International, etc. One of the things we're talking about at the new forum/blog is giving internationally vs. domestically. said...

Hi Deepa,

This is a great list but I wanted to add one more organisation to it which is GiveIndia, a Mumbai based NGO that connects donors with grassroot level NGOs in India that work towards poverty alleviation.

We raise funds through our website, where we offer donors the chance to choose exactly how they want to help. Within a few months of making a donation, donors get an individualised feedback report so they know how they made a difference.

GiveIndia is a registered 501c3 organisation so US taxpayers get tax benefits while contributing.

I hope you'll check out our website and blog.

Have a happy holiday season!

Buy Kamagra said...

I saw the report of this terrible disaster, I think we have to support a cause like this because if you had a situation like this you would like other people help you, we have to make conscious about it.

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