Help me give away $1200!
December 12, 2010 7:16 PM   Subscribe

It's the end of the year, and time to do give some money away. Yay! Help me pick a handful of organizations to donate money to.

I decided this year to set aside a small amount of money from each paycheck to give away to a few charities or organizations that support causes I like. I'd like to pick maybe 4-6-ish groups to donate money to. (I realize that larger donations go farther because the overhead is spread out, but I want to support a few different causes.) I have about $1200 to give.

In general, I want organizations that are well run and effective at what they do, of course. I prefer to be hands off--I'd like to just give them money and more or less trust them to do what they do with it. Bonus points to organizations who will not spam me with marketing material (looking at you, UNICEF); not to be an asshole, but just because you're a charity doesn't mean that isn't annoying.

I am (US) American, by the way.

Here are some causes I would like to support.
  • The usual ending poverty type stuff. I particularly like things that empower people, like heifer international, or microfinance (I've put some money into my family's Kiva pot, so probably looking for something else here)
  • Programs that provide better educational opportunities to people, in the form of mentoring, scholarships, working with parents, etc. This point and the next are very important to me. For this one, I am interested in groups in the US and groups abroad.
  • Groups that promote math, science and engineering education in the US, particularly to young people.
  • Groups supporting women's rights/gender equality, abortion rights, gay rights, etc, particularly in the US.
  • Environmental groups that promote practical, realistic solutions to climate change, again particularly in the US
  • Groups promoting progressive political change and trying to further the progressive movement in the US. In my mind, this means things like less war, better/cheaper education, better/cheaper healthcare, and environmentalism. I am not willing to give any more money to the democrats party, or democractic politicians at this time. (I have given some during election seasons, and am not thrilled with the results.)
  • Any journalistic organizations that do high-quality reporting with honesty and integrity, particularly those with a large US reach. (Thinking NPR here.)
I realize that some of these things are charities while some are likely to be political organizations. I am comfortable giving money to both. I also realize that some of these things are kind of "first-world problems", and that some people deem these to be less worthy of our resources. I am not one of those people. (I don't mean to be fighty, I just am not looking for people to question the worthiness of these causes in this thread.)
posted by !Jim to Society & Culture (33 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:20 PM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your profile says you're in NYC. If that's so, you definitely have a FIRST robotics team near you. I went through this program in high school and I continue to volunteer for it ten years later, and I can say with all honesty that it can literally be life-changing for the kids in the program. Even if you only throw a couple of hundred bucks at a local team, they can buy tools, parts for their robot, or help another kid be able to attend a competition. MeMail me if you want more info.

Bonus: your money goes right to the people who will use it, not an organization with overhead; you will not be spammed yearly with phone calls and snail mail; you will probably get a team T-shirt and an invitation to their demo day(s) in return.
posted by olinerd at 7:20 PM on December 12, 2010

Southern Poverty Law Center is matching donations through Dec. 31 (see this FPP) and is awesome.

Smile Train, Humane Society of the US, Habitat for Humanity, Cure PSP, Boys and Girls Clubs,

I find a lot of cool ideas on GlobalGiving, and if I don't know who they are, I vet them on CharityNavigator.

Nick Kristof's column at NYT is a great resource for this sort of thing.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:23 PM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you looked at Charity Navigator? You can search by cause and/or region, and they rank charities by efficiency.
posted by sugarbomb at 7:32 PM on December 12, 2010

Oooh, I'm a grinch, but I must say that the SPLC has an endowment of $187 million.

Some of my favorite orgs (as a civil rights lawyer): Employment Law Center (where I work), DREDF (I'm on the board), any Center for Independent Living, Girls, Inc., AAUW, Lambda Legal, NCLR. Also anything for foster youth and emancipated former foster kids (but check to make sure that it's bottom up, foster youth-directed, empowerment program).
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 7:35 PM on December 12, 2010

Safe Connections

Full disclosure: I work for this organization. We work every single day to help women who have experienced abuse/violence learn how cope with their pain and move into a more peaceful present. Each and every day our staff works tirelessly to help women gain strength and educate boys and girls on healthy relationships. We are underpaid and overworked but we never stop believing that we can make the world a better place.
posted by rglass at 7:38 PM on December 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

The Texas Tribune is a non-profit, non-partisan public media organization. It has arguably only a state reach right now, but at barely a year old, they are making great national strides in demonstrating that non-partisan, high-quality journalism is necessary, valuable and viable. They were recently invited to partner with the NYT, as part of the Times' continued effort to expand local news offerings. If the Texas Tribune really takes off, they could be the flagship for a movement toward agile, local, objective, original public reporting (think NPR at a robust regional level).
posted by pineapple at 7:57 PM on December 12, 2010

Seconding Charity Navigator, especially their holiday giving guide.

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project comes recommended by my lawyer. Its mission: "Fighting Discrimination against Gender Non-Conforming People: Focusing on People of Color and Poor People."

Scarleteen, sex ed for young'uns who can't get it any other way. As that page explains, you can give via the 501(c)3 charity Center for Sex and Culture if you want tax-deductibility in the US.

Look for STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) education projects on DonorsChoose.

Surprised no one's mentioned Oxfam yet! So: Oxfam.
posted by brainwane at 8:02 PM on December 12, 2010

Overhead is really the least of your worries; what you should really worry about is whether there's any reason at all to believe that any of an organization's program activities do any good.

Also, diversifying makes sense in cases where you are making a risky investment and you want to reduce your risk. But with charities, the major risks are that they won't have enough money to do any good, or that they have some flawed plan. The amount of money you are talking about isn't big enough to affect either, so this is not a valid concern.

Instead, you ought to figure out the one place where you can do the most good (by whatever your definition of that is), and give all your money there. If you look at lives saved by medicine in Africa, $1200 gets you maybe two lives. If you look at charter schools in the United States, it's less than a year of schooling for a kid. Maybe you choose one, maybe you choose the other, but to split it indicates indecisiveness rather than wisdom.
posted by novalis_dt at 8:04 PM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Heifer International is an incredible organization. They give gifts of animals to communities, families, and individuals around the world: from the poor struggling to feed their families in America (in Arizona, they provide sheep to the Navajo, who use the livestock to continue cultural traditions of weaving and feed their families) to South East Asia (where Heifer is working to help people impacted by the tsunami by providing livestock and training to help communities get back on their feet)

To me, the neatest thing about Heifer International is their concept of 'Passing on the Gift'. Basically, the idea is that everyone who has been a recipient of generosity from Heifer is expected to find some way to pass that gift along, when they are able. Recently, a group of Nepali women who had received aid from Heifer International got together to pass on the gift by providing rice to other needy families in their community.

I love these guys, and donate to them whenever I have a couple of extra bucks. (Best of all, if anyone reading the thread is considering a Christmas gift, you can "buy" a flock of geese or a llama from their extensive gift catalog and give the recipient a card showing the tangible gift that you gave on their behalf.
posted by arnicae at 8:11 PM on December 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

Habitat for Humanity does amazing work. They empower people by enabling them to buy their own homes and by extension, feel ownership and investment in communities. They have a sustainable business model, and they know how to turn cash into homes for people who need them. $250 can sponsor a family for the holidays.
posted by annie o at 8:19 PM on December 12, 2010

You could donate to the National Network of Abortion Funds or one of the New York-specific abortion funds (found here, listed by state). Abortion funds provide support directly to women who face financial barriers to abortion access. They provide money for abortion procedures, but also for transportation, childcare and lodging. Most of the women get a small percentage of their total costs from the funds and they are often given guidance about how to raise the rest of the money. Most of the women who seek help from abortion funds would qualify for Medicaid-funded abortions if it weren't for the Hyde Amendment. I've done some fundraising and volunteering for the DC Abortion Fund and it's a fantastic organization that is 100% volunteer-run, and 95% of their funds go directly to supporting women. I know this varies a lot from one fund to another, but most of them have ridiculously low overhead and it's always nice when you know that most of your money is going directly to support the mission of an organization.
posted by SugarAndSass at 8:25 PM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

The visibly needy that one might see at a gas station or a grocery store.

Total pointsource micro-finance concept.
posted by buzzman at 8:26 PM on December 12, 2010
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:28 PM on December 12, 2010

What do you consider a "practical, realistic solution to climate change," especially given that there are really strong political forces fighting against change? I have trouble with "give me recommendations" threads on nonprofits because different groups' approaches and theories of change vary so dramatically. I would recommend you study it yourself. If you want a pitch for my three favorites (at all of which I know some staff hence not publicly promoting them), drop me a memail. Another idea might be to look at the big foundations that care about climate change (Hewlett is one), and see if they publish their giving portfolio.

In another piece of random advice, I'd give that $1200 all in one piece, or in no more than 4 pieces. That way you can be more involved and learn what the organization does and the challenges it confronts, making your donation next year even more informed.
posted by salvia at 8:37 PM on December 12, 2010

My vote is to support La Leche League. It supports & educates breast-feeding mothers & their children. This would be a terrific way to help in all the areas you mentioned - our world needs to be run by well educated, confident, caring people & those people are made early in life - by parents & caregivers who value, nurture & love them.
posted by jsslz at 9:21 PM on December 12, 2010

Charity Navigator.
posted by anniecat at 9:39 PM on December 12, 2010

Not answering your question but maybe helping you with spam: This drives me nuts, too, and I work in fundraising for a nonprofit. When you make your donation make it explicitly clear that you do not want to be solicited. You might have to make a call to accomplish this. I'd encourage you to be extremely clear and say that you do not want your information to be traded/sold/rented out, etc and that you do not want to receive any information from the nonprofit nor future solicitations. (Of course, if you want to receive only the quarterly newsletter or whatever - you should tell them that and they should be able to handle the request). I'm so livid that I didn't do this with a donation to Amnesty this summer - who I'm 90% certain traded my name to about a bajillion organizations who I now receive solicitations from.
posted by fieldtrip at 10:11 PM on December 12, 2010

Response by poster: What do you consider a "practical, realistic solution to climate change," especially given that there are really strong political forces fighting against change?

Practical: supporting a cap and trade system, or EPA regulation of greenhouse gasses. Providing green energy incentives. Educating consumers and voters about climate change.

Impractical: “we should all stop buying anything and return to subsistence farming!”, protests which bring attention but not action.
posted by !Jim at 10:50 PM on December 12, 2010

What about considering a new foundation? A small amount of money goes a long way in helping them to get off of the ground, and is appreciated greatly. This is one that I think may fit your request of empowering people and helping parents to help their child achieve as much as possible in life given severe limitations.

Here is their mission statement:
To discover new treatment methods, as well as therapeutic services for all children that suffer with genetic disorders. To increase funds for research in the identification of genetic disorders, and find potential cures for symptoms related to gene deletions. Finally to provide the funding required to give all children and families the opportunity to live full and complete lives without regard for cost of care and ability to receive such care.

Thanks for being a person who does awesome things for others!
posted by maxg94 at 6:26 AM on December 13, 2010

Ugh - don't know why link did not work - trying again.
posted by maxg94 at 6:28 AM on December 13, 2010

Giving up and typing it -
posted by maxg94 at 6:29 AM on December 13, 2010

environmental: Union of Concerned Scientists and Sierra Club
posted by various at 6:41 AM on December 13, 2010

There are a number of charities who help women pay for abortions that they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford.

"Donate to the National Network for Abortion Funds today to help make sure that no woman is forced to carry a pregnancy to term because she doesn’t have the money for an abortion. Your tax-deductible gift will support abortion funds across the country -- and the women who count on them for help paying for an abortion. Your gift will also help us fight for laws that allow every woman to make the decision that’s best for her."

This site has a good overview of the different groups:
posted by with the singing green stars as our guide at 7:36 AM on December 13, 2010

World Vision does your run of the mill ending-poverty / 3rd world development type stuff, and its also one of the largest private organizations in the world with a global women's rights / gender equality initiative (in most of the poorest countries on the planet). Think like Unicef-big, or bigger. (Full disclosure: I'm biased, I work for them mainly in Africa and Haiti. Also they're religious but don't tie their programs to any missionaries, denominations, proselytizing, etc..)
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:46 AM on December 13, 2010

I second (or is that third?) Heifer International. I support it because "passing on the gift" means recipients become donors. And because Heifer understands poverty and hunger are also environmental issues, so it promotes agroecology in its projects to help small farmers. Also because its world view isn't of some downtrodden Third World that needs First World expertise -- it also funds urban projects in North America, which is how I got to know them. So I should probably add a fair disclosure that I now volunteer with them.
posted by ecourbanist at 7:50 AM on December 13, 2010

Practical: supporting a cap and trade system, or EPA regulation of greenhouse gasses. Providing green energy incentives. Educating consumers and voters about climate change.

Impractical: “we should all stop buying anything and return to subsistence farming!”, protests which bring attention but not action.

Your interests are wide enough that many organizations fit the bill. To reassure you, very few organizations in the world of "blue chip" environmental nonprofits take the impractical approach you describe (though a few do use protests as a tactic in specific situations, e.g., to call media attention to an issue). The usual suspects are Natural Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Environmental Defense Fund. That probably omits a few who are doing great work, so hopefully others will add what I left out.
posted by salvia at 7:57 AM on December 13, 2010

Programs that provide better educational opportunities to people, in the form of mentoring, scholarships, working with parents, etc. This point and the next are very important to me. For this one, I am interested in groups in the US and groups abroad.

If I may be allowed to promote an organization I'm involved in, how about Youth Villages' Transitional Living program? It focuses on working with young people who have aged out of foster care or state's custody and has the goals of assisting them with:
* Maintaining stable and suitable housing
* Remaining free from legal involvement
* Participating in an educational/vocational program
* Developing the life skills necessary to become a successful, productive citizen.

Some stats on TL youth:

* 87% lived at home or in a home-like environment 24 months after discharge.
* 74% reported no trouble with the law 24 months after discharge.
* 80% were in school, graduated or employed 24 months after discharge

Here's a study looking at program outcomes.
posted by Benjy at 9:33 AM on December 13, 2010

Lots of great suggestions upthread. Two not mentioned yet are the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. They both provide a broad spectrum of human rights support.
The ACLU doesn't just uphold our constitutional rights, but advocates for people who really need it, the underdogs of our society too. Planned parenthood doesn't just provide birth control and access to abortions, but also some basic health care, like tests for diabetes and mammograms.
posted by annsunny at 9:39 AM on December 13, 2010

I dearly love the ACLU, annsunny, and support them, but they will snail-mail spam you to death. I think I got something like 15 envelopes from them in 3 weeks.
posted by IndigoRain at 3:16 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

IndigRain, I must concede that there has been a lot of mail coming my way, not so much excess from the ACLU, but from organizations that must have gotten me from their mailing list.
posted by annsunny at 3:05 PM on December 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I'm going to be doing some research like everyone recommended, and I'll probably post my selections in here.

Has anyone tried contacting the charities to ask them not to send you marketing material or share your info? I'd be curious to hear if that has been successful. I really find that stuff annoying :(.
posted by !Jim at 7:59 PM on December 14, 2010

I'm really really late to this thread, but I just thought I'd mention that I send along a pre-printed notice with my donations that basically says "Thanks for the great work you do. Please don't send me any requests for donations or sell or trade or rent my name to anybody. Please don't use my mailing address or email address for anything."

Some organizations respect that, some don't. The Carter Center has been absolutely terrific about not spamming me with mailings (although they are nice enough to send me a Carter Christmas card every year, which I actually enjoy). The Carter Center also fits some of your criteria, and is one of the organizations I'm happiest to support.

I might also point you to an AskMe of my own, in which I wondered whether charities prefer to get payments by check or credit card, and there seemed to be a slight preference for checks.
posted by kristi at 8:14 PM on December 27, 2010

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