What charity project shall I support?
August 20, 2008 5:33 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to donate a sum of money to a charity project, preferably an educational one, but I need some advice on which one to choose.

This is a little long and rambly, so bear with me!

It's my 21st birthday very soon. My father has been hounding me for present ideas, and since I can't think of anything for myself I've come up with the idea of contributing to a charity project. I'm interested in education and am thinking of becoming a teacher, so I rather like the idea of building or equipping a classroom.

My preferred area would be South America, particularly Ecuador, since I spent some time volunteering there. This is negotiable, though.

The prices I've seen online for building classrooms range from £1700 to around £15,000. I don't know how much my dad is willing to spend (and it seems a little indelicate to directly ask him), but he is an exceedingly generous man and he originally suggested buying me an expensive new laptop, or paying for a holiday, so I think something in the high hundreds to low thousands would be OK with him. I'd rather err on the cautious side, though. My plan is to give him a few options (from, say, £500 to £3000) and let him decide which is closest to the amount he wishes to spend.

I know that the easiest option would be to simply donate a sum of money to be used at the charity's disposal, but I'd rather like the money to be used for one specific project. Also, most of the 'Oxfam Unwrapped" style giftshops seem very uninformative - they send you a greetings card and a certificate, in case you are making the donation on behalf of someone else. I know that personal gratification is hardly the point, but if I'm giving up a new laptop or a holiday then I would like more than a generic certificate. (Yes, I'm aware that probably makes me sound awful, but I don't care.) Something along the lines of some photos of the completed project, and maybe a very short report, would be lovely. Is this realistic, or is this kind of feedback only likely with much larger donations?

I've seen some rather suspicious websites, so I'd like to be completely certain that the charity I choose is legit and will actually use my money for the intended purpose.

I'd prefer a non-religious charity if possible, but I don't mind too much.

So. Does anyone on MeFi have any experience of this sort of thing and can offer any advice? Or does anyone have any suggestions of charities or projects? Many thanks in advance.

(In case anyone asks, Dad's absolutely fine with this - in fact he seems delighted with the idea. Also, in case anyone missed the references to pounds, I'm in the UK, but I don't mind donating to any nationality charity as long as it's above board.)
posted by badmoonrising to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I can't give advice on specifics, but generally, these schemes go into a restricted fund (so that they have to spend your money on the thing you wanted - this is a good thing for transparency). But this does mean that the charity doesn't have the flexibilty to spend it in another way if they are faced with new or different circumstances. Just because they need classrooms now, doesn't mean that they will still need classrooms in six months time, or that they have come up with a brilliant new way of teaching kids without needing classrooms but they can't do it because all their money is earmarked for classrooms. Just something to think about.

The thing I would check out would be what will they do with the money if they end up with more donations for classrooms than they can use (see: the too many goats problem... Oxfam Unwrapped for instance says that your money could be used to fund related items). You want to be sure that if they really do have too many classrooms and you are set on making sure your money's spent in that area, your money won't get used for something completely different like goats, or equally, it'll just sit in a bank account because they can't spend it on anything else.
posted by Helga-woo at 5:57 AM on August 20, 2008

kiva.org does not show any education projects in Ecuador that need funding at the moment, but several loans/projects are active and will need funding eventually. Kiva is great because it's done at the individual/community level by the residents themselves rather than NGOs or governments, and it has a very low default rate.
posted by headnsouth at 6:01 AM on August 20, 2008

What a nice gesture!
I work for a nonprofit non-religious organization in Andean Peru. I'm not asking for hand-outs, but the school there is very under-developed and without any computers or much of anything at all. I always bring with me several pads of paper and writing instruments, but it is hardly enough. Anyway, I'll spare you the details for now - but in case you're interested in doing something first-hand, direct, without middlemen, just let me know. I'm happy to photograph the results, etc. Of course there are benefits to Oxfam and so on - but there is also a pleasant feeling in making a concrete and transparent donation. Anyway, if you're interested mefi-mail me for details and website, etc.
posted by mateuslee at 6:04 AM on August 20, 2008

OK, in the interests of clarity, here's the website:

posted by mateuslee at 6:07 AM on August 20, 2008

I've had excellent experiences with DonorsChoose.org, but I'm fairly certain their focus is public school in the US. They might be worth checking out though.
posted by katemcd at 6:10 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What a wonderful gift idea and nice thing for you to do.

I don't have any suggestions for specific charities, but I can probably shed some light how this type of gift works out on the fundraising side of the organization.

It will be hard for you to find a major, reputable charity which will allow you to designate exactly where your money is going. This is because most charities are involved in many types of work, and allowing each donor to select exactly where their money goes would quickly become an administrative nightmare. Also, it's not always the most worthy cause that gets the most attention. For example, people are more likely to donate to things that are urgent and in the current news (natural disasters, etc) than for long-term conflicts or issues (HIV in Africa, Darfur). They are more likely to donate to an easy-to-understand cause, with a simple price point, and with a cute kid or animal attached (sponsor a child to pay for him/her to go to school), than one that seems more administrative and complicated (send an envoy to the UN to pressure the country's government to remove mandatory school uniform laws, allowing poor children to go to school). And of course, charities have to pay salaries, rent and admin costs the same as everyone else in order to be effective.

In terms of recognition of your donation, I can certainly see how you would want some extra info and recognition. Generally speaking, a "major donor" is someone who gives over £5,000, while a "high value donor" will be someone who gives over £250-300. Both these types of donor receive extra attention and information from the charity, and for a large gift you could expect to be invited to special events at the organization, get personalized correspondence from a high value/major donor manager, and receive extra information and news that is not sent out to regular donors.

Anyways, a lot of people who are planning large gifts actually meet or talk with a representative of the organization before doing so. I suggest you call up some of the charities you are interested in, explain that you are considering a gift in that range, and ask what you can expect from a relationship with them.

Again good luck and great idea!
posted by vodkaboots at 11:21 AM on August 20, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you all for your answers - they were all very helpful.

mateuslee, I actually read one of your previous questions when I was looking through the 'donation' tag. I'll take a look at your site, thanks for the link.

headnsouth, that looks like a great site, but I don't want my money to be repaid! Although I suppose I could keep re-lending the money.

helga-woo, you raise a very good point, thank you.

katemcd, I wasn't planning to donate to the US but the site you linked to looks really good. Thanks!

vodkaboots, thanks for the info. You raise an excellent point about administrative-type causes. I was trying to avoid having to talk to any of the charities (I'm shy, and not too fond of phone calls!) but I think that might be the best plan.
posted by badmoonrising at 6:56 AM on August 22, 2008

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