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What's the best Charity to give to?
July 31, 2005 5:10 AM   Subscribe

What is the best Charity to give to on a regular basis?

By "best", in this case, I mean something fairly Utilitarian: a calculus of straightforward, uncontroversial improvement in things like health, education and the sense that great things are possible in life. I am ready to be persuaded to support something more sophisticated, but I really want to find an organisation which is effective and efficient.
posted by grahamwell to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
oxfam always struck me as pretty straight. when i was in th euk we used to give our measly 1% to them.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:46 AM on July 31, 2005


852 million people on the planet do not have enough to eat, 24 000 of them die of hunger every day. I'd suggest giving to the World Food Programme.
posted by cheerleaders_to_your_funeral at 5:51 AM on July 31, 2005


Doctors without Borders probably doesn't meet your "uncontroversial" criterion, but the Heifer Project, which provides livestock and training in how to keep and breed it to desperately impoverished villagers throughout the world, probably does. The charity seems well-run and everything in their literature suggests that an animal gift tends to produce a sharp increase in the recipients' income.
posted by snarkout at 6:02 AM on July 31, 2005


I second both of snarkout's suggestions. MSF is great because there's always a need for medical aid and they (usually) aren't afraid to go into war ravaged countries (recent actions by the US have caused them to adjust that policy). And the Heifer Project is great because it promotes sustainability.
posted by furtive at 6:19 AM on July 31, 2005


Actionaid have a fairly varied approach to fighting poverty - they do educational projects and the like as well as food aid with an emphasis on working with communities and sustainability.
posted by handee at 6:41 AM on July 31, 2005


The United Way is a great program to donate to. They actually act as a clearing house for distributing funds to smaller, community-based organizations. They keep their administrative expenses very low (in the 10% range, I think), and turn most of the funds they gather right to the organizations that are doing good in your community. Check to see if you have a local United Way, and if so, you can be sure that your gifts are helping your own community. Many employers also offer a direct payroll deduction contribution program, so giving is easy and painless.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:59 AM on July 31, 2005


I second the United Way simply because of the payroll deduction. It makes it simple, painless, and (at the end of the year) a nice little kickback on your deduction accounting. You can actually specify, in your donation, what types or what particular charity to which you'd like your monies to be funnelled.

After a while of doing that, my wife and I decided to take matters into our own hands, and gave our time and money directly to our favorite charity: Big Brothers, Big Sisters
posted by thanotopsis at 7:04 AM on July 31, 2005


I've done a lot of research on this and came away with lots of admiration for the Heifer Project.

As far as local charities, in terms of getting your donated into the hands of those needing it, the Salvation Army.
posted by NorthCoastCafe at 7:21 AM on July 31, 2005


You may want to research the organization you eventually pick at guidestar.org. Guidestar allows one to lookup information on a nonprofit, including viewing the IRS forms they fill out (Form 990) to see how much they pay their top executives and where their money goes. It requires registration, but it is free.

As for who to pick, consider what issues are dearest to you (hunger, children, health, etc) and consider looking for a group that works in your community. Money always helps, but volunteering can be even more helpful and more rewarding.
posted by terrapin at 7:21 AM on July 31, 2005


Charitywatch.org grades non-profits based on things like how much of the money raised is actually spent on charitable purposes, and how much it costs the charity to raise $100. It has it's list of top-rated charities online. It's from the American Institute of Philanthropy, but it has international organizations on it's list.

MSF got an A.
posted by amarynth at 7:28 AM on July 31, 2005


Regarding the Salvation Army, they do a lot of good work, but most people do not realize they are actually a Christian church. If you'd rather donate to something secular, they probably aren't for you.
posted by grouse at 7:31 AM on July 31, 2005


I think Graham's in Britain guys, so (correct me if I'm wrong Graham) isn't looking for an American charity like Big Brothers or United Way.

My parents love the Heifer Project type organizations. I would also give a vote for Oxfam, and have found them very approachable and inclusive if you have questions or want to help, but if you want to search by location or function or whatever try the "British Charities" website.
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:41 AM on July 31, 2005


My fervent belief is that, while they remain underfunded, you have a moral duty to give to humanitarian projects helping those most at need, if you give to charity at all. I listed my preferred methods here.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 8:37 AM on July 31, 2005


Like Andrew Cooke, I like Oxfam for it's focus on global poverty and hunger relief. They specialize in helping communities realize individualized solutions to their problems and don't accept funds from any governments that might limit the independence of their programs or policy decisions (their wording). If you're in the States or Canada, there's Oxfam America and Oxfam Canada.
posted by Staggering Jack at 8:46 AM on July 31, 2005


I will second (third?) the Heifer Project, partly because they're based in Little Rock (where I am), but mostly because I've been able to witness first-hand their "business" model, which goes even farther than others have suggested; after an impoverished family receives an "ark" of animals, they only have a certain amount of time (3 years, I think...) before they're expected to "pass on" the gift (in the form of offspring) to other villagers. It really does make a difference.

Last semester, a few students from my undergrad program (Info Science at UALR), for their senior capstone project, helped them by designing and implementing a system whereby all their record-keeping will become "paperless" (done over the web or done on PDAs then synched up).
posted by chota at 9:15 AM on July 31, 2005


Check out your local Goodwill program. I recently had a tour of the facilities they run in our area, and it is truly amazing. They don't just run those stores you can shop at - they also work on training people to get them back to work, housing and helping homeless veterans, caring for disabled or elderly people, and getting people to be self sufficient. I was truly, truly amazed at their work.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:08 AM on July 31, 2005


There are lots and lots of really horrible diseases in the world. Just about every one has a foundation of some sort directly funding research towards a treatment or cure, and they generally run with little overhead. Pick the one you'd most like to see wiped out or rendered impotent.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:12 AM on July 31, 2005


I adore Heifer Project for several reasons: they use the "teach a man to fish" approach to solving problems, which is the only long-term strategy that can work; they multiply their charity by having the benefactees become benefactors; and they have, last I checked, low overhead, which means my dollar isn't lining some CEO's pocketbook.

Give the Gift of Goats.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:34 AM on July 31, 2005


The ONE Campaign is very much in vogue right now.
posted by JPowers at 11:08 AM on July 31, 2005


The Red Cross.
posted by Marky at 11:13 AM on July 31, 2005


You should give clothes and household goods to Goodwill or Salvation Army. They both do good work. I'm not fond of Salv. Army's religious/military model, but they take care of people who are down on their luck. When I get a little luck, I make an extra donation to the next local charity I notice, like the change box for a local child needing a transplant. United Way is a locally run affiliate of a national organization. My local UW is well run and provides financial and technical assistance to non-profits in my community, so I support them when I can.

I give to the American Friends Service Committee and Oxfam. Don't spread yourself too thin; every charity will sell your name, and you'll be inundated with heartbreaking mail. If there's a cause you're passionate about, there will be a charity to support. Cancer. MS. Children. Refugees.
posted by theora55 at 11:54 AM on July 31, 2005


I've been extremely impressed over the years with the hardheaded, utilitarian approach to world problem-solving shown by The Carter Center. They do things like providing a large square of nylon, and a bit of training, to individual Africans, so they can learn to filter Guinea worm larvae out of their drinking water. They also train local leaders in day-long conflict resolution seminars; given the omnipresence of small arms in Africa, this strikes me as a very good idea. They have a whole batch of web pages dedicated to transparency and showing where the money goes.

The United Nations also operates a whole host of programs designed to alleviate human suffering, the aforementioned WFP being one of them. You could do worse than support these efforts.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:39 PM on July 31, 2005


ThirdSector, a UK magazine for charity professionals, sponsors an annual Most Admired award for charities, CEOs, and celebrity endorsers. The 2004 Winner was MSF, and in 2003 (the first year) it was Oxfam.

One international effort that I've been involved with is Rotary International's PolioPlusprogram to eliminate polio worldwide in conjunction with WHO, a program that has had 99% effectiveness in just 20 years, with total Rotary fundraising over the entire program exceeding $500 million. There's a very low program cost, and heavy local involvement -- much of the volunteer work actually falls on local Rotary chapters. From a utilitarian standpoint, which you say is important, each shot permanently protects one child; eventually (very soon, we hope) polio will be permanently, completely eradicated everywhere on the planet.

It's best to avoid any charity which telemarkets using the phone or post. These are siphoning off donated funds to for-profit vendors, hoping they can get more money by spending some. Efficient, that ain't. You'll want to avoid things like the big charity bike rides and runs, too, because organization costs are high for such events, even if they are popular and build donor awareness and loyalty. Here's a recent list of "best bang for the buck" charities.

The "best" charity is for something you personally know about as a problem -- cancer or heart disease research, for instance, because almost everyone has someone in their family with one of those diseases. You'll get the most satisfaction out of such giving. Spend it locally, and support a nearby children's program, historical museum, or whatnot.
posted by dhartung at 9:21 PM on July 31, 2005


For a personally-known charity, I recommend Clean Water for Haiti, which was started by a couple friends of mine.

If you don't like Haitians, try CAWST, for whom one of them is now working. Again, good people doing good work that really makes a difference.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:06 AM on August 1, 2005


Thanks very much for all the responses, great stuff. My choice, in the end, was MSF - as a UK taxpayer they'll get more from me, they also seem to be really on-the-ball. Thanks again.
posted by grahamwell at 7:49 AM on August 2, 2005


I liked the Heifer Project until I found out how much they spent on administrative costs.

My current non-local charities are MSF and Coffeekids. The later isn't on the radar of most of the charity watchers, but is the chosen charity of much of the homeroaster community and artisinal coffee roaster shops, and we keep an eye on them.
posted by QIbHom at 9:30 AM on August 2, 2005


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