Once again that time of year is quickly approaching for pumpkin pie, family gatherings, gift buying, and charity drives. While I have always been one to advocate making everyday a moment to give, it’s important to focus on the Christmas season due to the amount of advertisement and funding campaigns that many non-profits put out for the communities they support
. The majority of folks in the United States are still religiously influenced, even if just nostalgically so, during the holiday season. That being the case, there are many skeptics who still enjoy the holiday season too for other reasons, and are also more likely to donate during this time of year to charity groups, as well.
So where should you throw your money? Do you want to just mail a check out to Children’s Hospital? Maybe send a few barbie dolls to Toys For Tots? Or do you want to be working a soup kitchen during Thanksgiving in your local village? There are many options to choose from, and it’s important to understand what you are throwing your support behind. I decided I would cover a couple of the more common charity drives, and highlight a couple of the more unusual organizations too.
United Nations Children’s Fund, also known as UNICEF, works to make sure that all children have a right to survive, thrive and fulfill their potential in order to benefit the world. They use their political muscle to influence legislation in other countries to make this happen, as well as have boots on the ground in war torn areas like Syria where they can get aid to children and their families. This organization is global, and spends over 90% of its received support on its programs and activism. They have a very nice market where you can purchase items via free trade and other avenues, or you can just send in a check.
A personal favorite for me is Doctors Without Borders, and that might be because I can relate to not having regular healthcare and personally struggling to find care. This organization is a private association of medical professionals who put aside their beliefs, personal bias and prejudices, to get out there and save lives, educate the public, and make sure everyone has a chance to be healthy and learn how to stay that way. Again, this is a worldwide organization, and they spend over 87% of funding on their programs.
Marines Toys For Tots is another program you can donate to with confidence. They have a whopping 97% spending rate on their programs which is pretty amazing. Their campaign runs from October through December, and often recognized by the familiar large boxes and reserve military members advertising their current goals. This organization has mostly focused on children within the United States, but have branched out to other areas in the world now and then.
Now, there are some other charities out there I’d like to caution against using. If you do so, try to make sure of where your donation is going, and think of the effect it might have on the recipient. First, I’ll start with Heifer International who ” …empower families to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity – but our approach is more than just giving them a handout.” They accomplish this goal by giving livestock to families in struggling countries all over the world. Nearly 125 countries they’ve donated to families in. Apart from the fact that nearly 20% of their funds goes to fundraising, I found it more bothering that animal gifting charities like Heifer don’t take into account that gifting animals to families and villages can actually increase hunger and costs to the household.
The infamous red kettle of the Salvation Army is another one I would pass up for financial and political reasons. Any organization that actively pursues, even spending its funding that donors have given in order to lobby for anti-gay legislation, doesn’t deserve your money. They have an 82% efficiency rating by Forbes.
Finally, I want to expose one more charity that should be avoided like the plague. Kids Wish Network has been around since 1997, claiming that they are “…dedicated to infusing hope, creating happy memories, and improving the quality of life for children who are experiencing life-altering situations.” The reality? Less than 3% of their funding is actually spent on the kids they claim to support. And these types of charities (which are still in operation) exist all over the nation, burning up phone lists with paid solicitors to try to raise more funds.
When deciding if you want to donate actual money this holiday season, or at any point, always double check the financials of your charity. Understand what the ultimate mission is for the organization, and never hesitate to pick up that phone and ask questions. There are several useful sites on the net you can use. I prefer using the non-profit site Charity Navigator, or the Better Business Bureau’s Give.org.
Or, you might try a more effective approach. Donate your time to local organizations that need volunteers within your own communities. Put a face on the cause you are trying to support instead of being another anonymous dollar sign that is deposited into a charity’s funding account. Be the change you wish to see in the world.