Who should get my money?
January 17, 2011 9:27 AM   Subscribe

I want to give money to an environment or education charity. I hate bureaucratic waste, and I hate misguided uses of money. Any suggestions on where I should give?

I probably don't donate as much as I should because I am kind of cynical and I often question whether my money is doing any real good. I would hate to unwittingly support corruption or just have my money wasted. It seems like there are more ways these days to vet these things and maximize the value of our donations. Have any of you looked into this for environmental/educational charities? What did you conclude?
posted by malhouse to Work & Money (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure what type of educational charity you'd like personally, but I suggest a Democratic Free School. There are a number of them in the US (and across the world), and I know that many of them are struggling to stay afloat. Wikipedia has a good description of what they are. But here are a few links to some -
posted by saffronwoman at 9:37 AM on January 17, 2011

www.donorschoose.org allows you to direct your money to specific school projects and have pretty solid transparency on the organization budget.
posted by mzurer at 9:42 AM on January 17, 2011

Seconding donorschoose.org. As a school teacher I use them for quite a few of my projects and as an individual you can pick and choose what projects seem most worthy and most likely to be used well in the classroom. You also get thank you cards and information back about how your money (and the supplies) were used.
posted by aetg at 9:45 AM on January 17, 2011

Be wary of organisations where the admin/overhead is absurdly low. Without some money going to admin, projects are likely to be poorly planned, and worse, poorly evaluated.

I personally like Camfed.
posted by wingless_angel at 9:57 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is very subjective, but as you asked about environmental charities, the World Wildlife Fund is an amazing charity. And much of their work in the developing world involves education, if that fits your other interest.
posted by londonmark at 9:57 AM on January 17, 2011

http://www.charitynavigator.org/ is a great site for looking at the costs and efficiency of different charities
posted by zombieApoc at 9:58 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can use Charity Navigator to look up most charities, it ranks them, offers breakdowns on expense, trends, Revenue, donor privacy policy ratings, leadership, mission.. etc etc...

It really is an excellent resource.
posted by edgeways at 10:01 AM on January 17, 2011

Malhouse, you suggest that you want get the most value out of your donations. Start there. Think about your donations as an investment. You're looking to get the greatest return on your investment, right? So first define that return - what impact do you want your investment to have on the world? An investment in World Wildlife Fund will support large scale international conservation efforts. An investment through donorschoose.org will support small-scale local education projects. Your return isn't better or worse through either investment, its just different.

You might start by choosing a region and a goal that have meaning for you. Then start looking for organizations that work to achieve your goals in the region that you're interested in. Charity Navigator, mentioned earlier, is a great place to start. If you can't find what you're looking for there, try Guidestar. Guidestar includes more organizations but doesn't have in-depth information on all of them.

You can also find 'brokers' for your investment all over the web. Organizations like donorschoose.org (mentioned earlier), ioby, and kiva allow donors to pick specific projects to invest in. These sites often match small donors with small projects. Your small investment will have relatively large impact.
posted by golden at 10:44 AM on January 17, 2011

Room to Read.

You might like to look at the book by founder John Wood.
posted by philipy at 10:47 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I looked into this a few years ago when I was writing my will. Decided to leave my vast wealth (yeah, right) to the Nature Conservancy. Biodiversity and habitat preservation are the biggest environmental needs, and this nails them both efficiently.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 10:56 AM on January 17, 2011

Ophan Foundation of America is another one you might want to look into; I really believe in what they're doing. An added benefit to donating (at least $10.00) is that you become eligible to join Alliant Credit Union, one of the best online banks, imho.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 11:40 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another thing to think about is doing something very local. If there is a local Boys and Girls Club that offers afterschool tutoring to local kids who otherwise couldn't afford it, if there is a local nature center, a group that offers low-cost insulation for homes, that sort of thing. In my area there's an educational enrichment program for low-income children of color, which offers summer classes and Saturday classes, takes the kids to museums and that sort of thing - they have three employees and it's very clear that every dollar they get goes a long way.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:38 PM on January 17, 2011

Giving What We Can argues here that the most effective education charities are those treating children for parasitic worm infections, since this is the most cost-effective way of improving school attendance rates. (Drugs for these conditions, which are non-fatal and so kind of unglamorous, are given away near-but-not-actually free by drug companies). They recommend two in particular on their website.
posted by piato at 12:39 PM on January 17, 2011

Asha for Education consistently gets stellar ratings.
posted by Talisman at 1:04 PM on January 17, 2011

The thing about 'bureaucratic waste' is that it's mostly bullshit. An organisation like the International Red Cross, may be perceived as having high levels of 'waste' according to some arbitrary measurement, but that's really not true at all. They have the capacity to fly supplies in their own planes around the world with little notice. This sort of capacity doesn't just happen through magic fairy dust, they have to have a long supply chain, people who look after these things, in order to have that capacity. And that capacity is important, some charities need to be at that level.
posted by wilful at 4:28 PM on January 17, 2011

High school bands are always searching for donors. With music programs around the country losing funding from their district...seek out a local band program or donate to your alma mater. If you want to make sure the money is being put to good use you could specify how it is to be used and/or donate a little to see how they respond...then donate more later. Yes, I am a band director...memail me if this is an avenue you wish to explore. Happy Philanthropy!
posted by bach at 5:02 PM on January 17, 2011

Seconding wilful a bit here. Charity Navigator and Guidestar really only measure how good a charity is at accounting, or at how good they are at allocating money to programs. This doesn't come close to measuring effectiveness of outcomes, adherence to mission, etc.

If you're looking for an environment/education charity where someone can tell you what that money will do, right now, today, I will rep OBUGS: Oakland Based Urban Gardens.

I volunteer with them monthly or so, and I will tell you that $25 will go to an hour of garden/nutrition instruction with a group of 20 or so kids living in a food desert, many with PTSD or at least who have been told to stay inside for their own safety. The kids will plant, tend and harvest vegetables with the seasons in gardens built and maintained by volunteers and a tiny staff (think two). They will cook with what they grow and learn which bugs are bad in a garden and which are helpers. They will take home some produce to show their parents. This in a place with 80+ liquor stores and a single grocery store, with some sickeningly high rates of obesity, heart disease and asthma.

It could also go to buying enough wood for 9 gardens' beds. They use and reuse everything -- rotted wood lining the beds is cut down to the unrotted part and reused as a sign saying what's growing there. They are a charity I know on a human, personal level and would love to answer questions about!
posted by blandcamp at 9:02 PM on January 17, 2011

I asked this question of myself just the other day. While I had always thought that providing people with the means to raise their own livestock was a good choice, through something like Heifter International, apparently I, and thousands of other people, were very, very wrong. It seems the target countries don't even want such livestock donations, like a cow or a flock of chickens. And due to my ignorance, I didn't even realize how completely "western white" my view used to be about this.
posted by DisreputableDog at 10:36 AM on January 26, 2011

DisreputableDog, that article you linked to is crap. It's very very much a "western white" critique of aid programs based on some mythical view that poor people should all be happy vegetarians when their culture is nothing but. I mean, you're not allowed to have goats in nepal because you might chop a finger off? Gimme a break.

If animal rights people want to impose their values on others, they can start much closer to home.
posted by wilful at 2:16 PM on January 26, 2011

« Older Alternatives to USAA for online banking?   |   I Love You Historically Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.