A gift that keeps on giving
September 4, 2011 8:57 PM   Subscribe

We have approx $2500 shared amongst several people that we want to give to charity. But rather than a one off payment to a chosen charity, we want to figure out a way to use the money in a way that keeps on giving. Is't possible??

We're having trouble locking down on a charity, so we may well just divvy up the money to donate where we each see fit, but boy it would be nice to be able to use it in a way that has longevity. $2500 is a big sum to us, but it is too small to do anything longterm or ongoing?

Any ideas, would love to hear them.

We're in Sydney, Australia, btw, if that makes a difference, although we're happy to go international with the giving.

posted by mooza to Work & Money (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
That's a small sum to view as something that "keeps on giving".

Put your energy into choosing a well run organization that provides services in an area you can all approve of, donate the money and let THEM decide how it can best be used.
posted by tomswift at 9:03 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about microfinance? Your donation will be loaned out again and again to extremely poor people, who can use the credit facility to lift themselves out of poverty.

Or use the money for another kind of project that will keep giving, like building a well in an area where people don't have access to clean water.

I'm not endorsing these charities - links provided for context only. You'll have to do some research.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:08 PM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

One thing to consider might be Kiva loans rather than a straight donation to charity. I lent $50 through Kiva a few years ago, and have relent that same $50 a dozen times since. It's fun to go there every few months and pick a new person to loan money to, and it feels charitable all over again, even though it's the same money.

Not tax deductible, though, if that's important to you.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:08 PM on September 4, 2011

Holy cow, Kiva.org. You'll do much more good providing cheap capital loans to entrepreneurs in developing areas rather than having the money blown on donor-driven consumables . It "keeps on giving" because you can just re-lend the capital out as it gets paid back.
posted by holterbarbour at 9:09 PM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Heifer International gives livestock to impoverished villages. When the livestock reproduce, the recipients are expected to pay the good will forward by sharing the new stock with neighboring villages.

The Nature Conservancy uses your funds to buy up land for the purposes of protecting it. It technically becomes theirs, but their mission is to basically just sit on it to preserve it.
posted by Gilbert at 9:12 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Spend it on literacy lessons for adults or children. It will then keep on giving for life.
posted by flutable at 9:17 PM on September 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

Charity Navigator maintains lists of the best charities based on different factors, which may help you make a more informed decision. Also, Charity Navigator reviews charities to provide information on expense breakdown, accountability, reviews from donors, etc. For example, here are reviews of Kiva and Heifer International.
posted by illenion at 9:25 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks illenion - I meant to link to Charity Navigator, but I couldn't remember the name!
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:26 PM on September 4, 2011

I absolutely understand the motivation here -- you don't want to feel like your donation is a drop in the ocean -- but it can be problematic if "longevity" morphs into a situation where you want explicit cause-effect confirmation that your gift is still giving, whether it's a plaque on a slide in a local kids' playground reading "love from mooza and mates", or reports from somewhere far away.

David Roodman's blog posts on the psychology of Kiva are worth a read, because he acknowledges how charities need to make donors feel good about their donations, even if that means using resources to personalise the giving.

As Roodman says, asset-based projects are generally more equitable and longer-lasting than the old sponsor-a-child model, but even then, money's fungible, so a "build a well" donation may actually go towards repairing the truck that carries the well parts instead. If you really want to avoid that, find a small, targetted local project with a good reputation.
posted by holgate at 10:51 PM on September 4, 2011

Another way to potentially increasing the money is to use it to match funds. That is - pick a charity, and the encourage others to donate, saying that you will match their funds up to a certain amount, or see if there is a company that will match your donation.

Groupon has organized certain charitable donations this way - calling it a two for one deal and encouraging their subscribers to donate.

Mooza - good for you for thinking of ways to make a difference.
posted by helmutdog at 11:13 PM on September 4, 2011

You'll do much more good providing cheap capital loans to entrepreneurs in developing areas rather than having the money blown on donor-driven consumables

This is, of course, a false dichotomy. There are plenty of efficiently-run charities. Remember that there is a very big difference between "keeps on giving" and "can be easily seen to be keeping on giving." A contribution to the core running costs of a particularly well-run large charity may well be the best way to do the former, even if it's obviously not a way to do the latter.
posted by oliverburkeman at 6:02 AM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

You need to look at the charities and how they use their money to know whether your money will be used in a way that you approve of.

You want to give to charities that spend very little on advertising, publicity, and capital administration costs, although I would encourage you not to look at "percentage administrative costs" as the only factor in determining this, because charities need to have infrastructure and staff in order to run programs. To use the example given above, I think using donated money to repair the truck that carries the well parts is just as good, if not better, than donating to build the well itself. Without the truck in working order, how many wells are not going to be built? Wells are not forever - they are made of mechanical parts that can malfunction. People like to think of their dollars directly purchasing a concrete item that saves a life or changes a life, but at the same time, what about those other abstract costs, materials, and services that are needed to run the lifesaving or changing program? If no one will give funds for those costs, the charity will become nonfunctional, and won't help anyone.

Then you also want to look at the programs and how they are designed. What is the mission of the organization? What are its values? Have you looked at its latest financial statements to see if they're spending their money in such a way that their values are supported?

Are the programs centered around giving away stuff for free? Or are they designed in such a way that they are meant to make a lasting impact, to involve training, education, capacity building, etc? Do they involve donations of disposable, short-term items? (this can be appropriate in disaster relief situations) Or do they involve donations of durable items or capital that will be in use for many years to come?

Do they involve treating preventable infections, then sending people back to the same home situation that put them at risk for the infection in the first place, or do they involve addressing the core public health factors that lead to infection through prevention?

Do the programs bring in outsiders from wealthy countries to lead programs to "save the poor" in some way (who by assumption, cannot save themselves), or do the programs involve local community members working together to create their own solutions to their own problems?

I'm not sure what sort of charities you are looking at but these are examples of ways in which programs can create lasting change versus minimal change. Matching funds with others is a good idea, although $2500 may not be enough unless you are willing to run the matching campaign on your own.

I would also urge you not to break down the sum into smaller amounts. Small donations require much more administration in terms of what most charities will do in response to them, i.e. if the charities are going to send thank yous and mailings to you, send you their newsletter, send you updates on what your donation helped to accomplish, etc., then there will be a lot more of this type of reporting/donor relations work involved if you break up your donation into small pieces. Why not give your donation to a small charity with a small budget and a low overhead, to which your $2500 donation will be a godsend? The charity I help to run has a $150,000 budget this year and 5 full time staff members. A $2500 donation would have us dancing in the streets.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:56 AM on September 5, 2011

p.s. give using checks sent through the mail to avoid losing 4-6% or more of your money on electronic donation processing costs. Your charity of choice will thank you!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:59 AM on September 5, 2011

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