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Your Favorite Charities:
My co-blogger Jim's post below reminds me of a question I have been meaning to ask: VC readers, what are your favorite charities, and why? Do you donate to major organizations like the Red Cross or Save the Children? Local charities? The arts? And why do you make the decisions you do?

  Just to focus things a bit, let's stick with charitable causes that are not political candidates or religious organizations such as churches and synagogues.
LTEC (mail) (www):
I prefer to answer the opposite question:
What are charities that I don't like?
I'm not talking about phony charities like Hamas, or charities whose goals I actively oppose. I'm talking about well-intentioned but bad ideas.

My examples:

Special Olympics
Habitat for Humanity
Children's Wish Foundation

for all the obvious reasons.
11.20.2006 2:28am
Dan G (mail):
LTEC -- I generally agree that those are low return-on-investment charities and wouldn't donate to them, but I'm actually curious, what are "all the obvious reasons?"
11.20.2006 2:49am
Walt Quist (mail):
We donate to the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.
11.20.2006 2:53am
Grover Gardner (mail):
Anything we're done with goes to the Salvation Army (bigger items) or the local homeless shelter, money and canned goods to the local church. Solve the problems at home.
11.20.2006 3:49am
Bottomfish (mail):
I don't contribute to any cause that already has large, well-established advocacy groups behind it. Therefore, nothing to the homeless, to ethnic minorities, or to the Palestinians. Some people in these sectors have a genuine claim of mistreatment; many do not. In any case they are already being helped. Diligent people who have been hit by random adversity get my funds -- for example, the victimes of the tsunami in southeast Asia.
11.20.2006 5:55am
Simon (391563) (mail) (www):
Medicin sans Frontieres, because they do the coolest work and have the coolest name.

and why is Habitat for Humantiy a bad idea?
11.20.2006 6:46am
blcjr (mail):
Besides church (which for this question doesn't count), and donations of food and goods to shelter, my choice of charities is Direct Relief. They are one of the few charities that can boast of being 100 percent efficient in fundraising.
11.20.2006 7:48am
Hoya:
Food for the Poor is also extremely efficient, and gets all of our non-church charitable giving.
11.20.2006 8:09am
Jeek:
I give 28% to Uncle Sam every year... can't say that's my "favorite" charity though. Sure wish it was voluntary, or failing that, more efficient. =)
11.20.2006 8:20am
Zubon (www):
My list for the year:
* local shelter for homeless families
* local domestic abuse shelter
* two local libraries
* Room to Read (international non-profit building libraries and school in rural Asia)
* my undergrad college
* still considering a couple more

I donate time and blood (but not money) to the Red Cross.

I will admit to being influenced by tax policy. Donations to local shelters and libraries provide a partial tax credit (rather than deduction) in my state, so I can donate more there at no additional personal cost. This factor is not large enough to cause me to donate there, but since I already do, it has encouraged me to focus my charitable dollars there.
11.20.2006 8:35am
Bob R (mail):
Most of my "nonreligious" giving is through my church - for instance the Methodist Committee On Relief and various special offerings for disaster victims. I figure I'm already paying for some of the infrastructure through my regular giving which is a big part of the reason that religious organizations like MCOR and Catholic charities show so well in efficiency ratings. I also figure that the natural bureaucratic jealousies of a church administration help to fight against perks and featherbedding that you see at so many charities.

I also donate some time and treasure to some local music organizations, but while that is technically charitable donations and work it's not in the same category in my mind.
11.20.2006 8:45am
buddingeconomist:
Habitat for Humanity is my favorite charity. I think it is an excellent idea. If only there were more charities that were such good ideas.
11.20.2006 8:47am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
Salvation Army- chances are the money is getting used to a relative maximum.

Various &occasional military relief orgs.

overall, not big money, mind you.
11.20.2006 9:15am
DH (mail):
The problem with HfH is that it's non sustainable. If you ever visted a HfH family 5+ years down the road the house is usually wrecked, the family is a disaster with some portion of the members being homeless, drug addicted, or incarcerated, and the good will of the community squandered.

There is something to be said for making "miracles" happen for people, but by and large, it ignores the fundamental truth that people aren't really "lucky" over time. People who repeatedly have "bad luck" are actually suffering from the results of poor choices. Blaming the "victim" is poor taste I know, but the reality is that homelessnes is often the result of many choices that were less than optimal and came as a result of behaviour that is counterproductive.

Fixing the end result does nothing to alleviate the precursors that necessarily led to the end result. In most cases being homeless or without adequate housing is a symptom of something much larger: poor education, poor skills, poor money management, addiction, gambling, etc.

HfH is a *noble* idea, it's just an idea that addresses only the end result, and not the precursors. These "miracle" organizations attract volunteers and donors because of the emotional reactions gained - the 'there's my house' tears of joy that you see TV shows trying to play off (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition anyone?). For me, I'd much rather my money go towards something that is sustainable.
11.20.2006 9:17am
Aukahe:
I give food to local shelters. I give money to the local volunteer fire company. I like Direct Relief for international and the North American Mission Board's Disaster Relief Fund for domestic work. I can't resist funding chainsaw-wielding Southern Baptists.
11.20.2006 9:25am
agesilaus:
I donate thru our Church which does a lot of non religious work. Otherwise I give to the Salvation Army. Never to the Red Cross which pays its executives outrageous salaries and lies about how they will spend the money donated. The 9-11 donations are an example. They are also completely disorganized, rigid and easily confused, look at their Katrina efforts. This contributes to waste and fraud. And lastly they are associated with the vile International Red Cross.
11.20.2006 9:28am
Spartacus (www):
I'm relatively poor, so have little to give; but used stuff we no longer need goes to the local Goodwill, except that baby stuff and some other household items are directly donated to new parents or other families who need them, usually close friends, though not necesarily. The latter is obviously the most direct form of charity, that is, direct sharing with the individuals in need; while perhaps not the most capable of dealing with mass alleviation of wide scale hardship, it is certainly the most efficient, in terms of almost zero transaction costs. But you have to actually know where to find some needy folks--which is easier if you actually, personally know them, but even if you don't, they're not too hard to find.
11.20.2006 9:38am
Gary McGath (www):
I give to Habitat to Humanity. If there's a problem with it, I'd like to hear about it. The fact that it's Christian-based and I'm an atheist doesn't bother me, since as far as I know, their religion doesn't affect their choice of beneficiaries or lead them to proselytize those they help.
11.20.2006 9:38am
Truth Seeker:
Habitat for Humanity is my favorite charity. I think it is an excellent idea.

They built a house near my office last year. Now that it's done there are 2 new cars in the driveway. Does anyone know how they decide who gets their help. You don't seem to need to be too poor.
11.20.2006 9:42am
Aultimer:
I like to support charities with new/different ideas, like the local group that helps low-income folks winterize their homes (since every $ and hour spent also helps save on heating costs) and the group that places shelter companion animals with shut-in older people (to their mutual benefit). I mostly support local orgs that help the working poor, although they're mostly religous-based (and not my sect).
11.20.2006 9:44am
buddingeconomist:
"The problem with HfH is that it's non sustainable."

Would you rather sustain these people in homeless shelters forever or give them a chance at a real life?

What is great about Habitat is that it gives people something that is their own and believes in them.

Sure, for some it won't work. Some won't get any other help or support in their community or will have a serious addiction or something that leads once again to disaster - but Habitat tries to offer help to families and individuals that show promise -- that aren't addicts, that want to make a new life.

Because they actually meet the people and cater specifically to their needs (as opposed to government housing programs which are one-size-fits-all) they actually have a chance at success. In addition, the families have to actually work for their new home. They must help to build it, they must meet the community members who help out, in short they must believe in it too. A drunk or addict who just wants free rent won't do this, generally. And if they do, they are probably at least trying a little bit to get back on their feet.

In fact, for many families it is not that they are addicts or have squandered everything - they are just in a rough spot because e.g. the father left them, they lost their job, etc. The home is something that they can own - its an investment - and it means not having to pour most of every paycheck into rent. So, the family can get a new fresh start and have something to believe in and invest in and build toward a new future.

There are many success stories from Habitat. It isn't just a bandaid, it isn't aa welfare program that keeps people down like public housing or homeless shelters, it is actually a fresh start.
11.20.2006 9:49am
buddingeconomist:
"Does anyone know how they decide who gets their help."

Every local Habitat is a little different I think. The building is done by volunteers but the materials cost money and you are expected to pay some of it off with your new mortgage. So it is aimed at those who are ready to help build and who are ready to work and come up with minimum mortgage payments. You must be poor to qualify, though. For example:

http://www.wichitahabitat.org/home_ownership.html

If your local family had new cars, they might have ripped off the local Habitat - unless those were visitors. However, its much harder to scam a local Habitat than to scam the government, so I wouldn't take it as a bad sign about Habitat.
11.20.2006 9:54am
Shawn-non-anonymous:
I donate goods and time more than money. We avoid giving to organizations with ties to religions that are anti-gay. (While respecting their right to hold their own opinion, we don't need to fund them.) Of specific note in this category is the Salvation Army--a group that ties their help directly to their religious beliefs and as such gay men and women are excluded.

This year, the Kidney Foundation is our primary beneficiary. We'll donate toys to a children's HIV/AIDS holiday toy drive. We're helping a high school kid who was kicked out of his home for being gay finish his last school year.
11.20.2006 10:01am
Spartacus (www):
There seems to be something contradictory about the two types of complaint with HfH: one (TruthSeeker) says t hat a house they built now has two cars in the garage, so the recipients didn't "seem to need to be too poor," while another (DH) says that "5+ years down the road the house is usually wrecked, the family is a disaster with some portion of the members being homeless, drug addicted, or incarcerated, and the good will of the community squandered." while both are certanlt possible, this seems ironic. By the latter standard, the former would be a success story, by the former standard, the latter example would "prove" that the folks were really needy.

Seems to me that the former is preferable--that charity is best directed where it will have a long term sustaining effect, and thus no longer be needed. of course, if the family with two cars simply was not needy in the first place, charity might seem unnecessary, but that is the wonder of private charity versus taxpayer subsidies--giving is voluntary, so givers can adjust accordingly. As another poster pointed out, giving to the "less needy" can be more of a bandaid approach. However, other might prefer giving to the truly "hopeless" causes, if only to temporaily alleviate the suffering of one nonetheless "doomed" to destitution.
11.20.2006 10:05am
Kim:
Aside from my church, I give to Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Medical Mission Board. Both are pretty efficient organizations that have people in place all over the world to deliver aid and donated medical supplies and services to poor people, regardless of religion. I also give to a local homeless shelter/food kitchen and Prison Fellowship. I've known people helped by Habitat, so I am generally favorably inclined to the organization, though I don't give to it. I definitely don't give to the Red Cross after all of the stories (9/11, etc.) I've read about it.
11.20.2006 10:10am
bearing (mail) (www):
Besides our parish church, our family donates to:

- Catholic Charities (for reasons many have already mentioned, efficiency being one, also I can -mostly- trust that my money doesn't help fund, say, abortions)

- The Couple to Couple League, an organization that teaches and promotes natural family planning (we appreciate how the instruction we got from them has enhanced our marriage --- they do good work with all-volunteer instructors)

- The retirement fund for religious (they've got no children and most of them no savins either --- and their orders have been shrinking and cannot take care of them)

- A particular scholarship fund at Ohio State (our alma mater --- both of us attended on scholarship)

- The Catholic high school from which my husband graduated (and attended on scholarship)

- A scholarship fund established in memory of my mother at the school where she taught

- The Boy Scouts (we just think they're cool)

- Minnesota Public Radio (it's just about the only MSM that makes it into our house, so we feel we owe them)
11.20.2006 10:12am
buddingeconomist:
When I said bandaid, I was referring to the approach, not the recipient. Its a bandaid if you don't deal with the core problem and help by subsidizing their lifestyle -- eg shelters and free drugs for heroin addicts, rather than counceling and treatment.

Habitat is generally more like the latter. They make you work for it, they often make you go to finance counceling, they give you something which you then must work for in the future as well, as you generally will be stuck with mortgage payments. But you own it -- you now have something that you own and can be proud of. Compare this to simply having a shelter to sleep in for the night. The shelter is a bandaid - it gets you through the night but thats all - there is nothing there that will change your life.
11.20.2006 10:14am
buddingeconomist:
oops. counseling.
11.20.2006 10:16am
FantasiaWHT:
DH, have you ever read "The Losers" by David Eddings? It's fiction, but it's based on the experiences of the author growing up in Spokane, Washington, and describes and analyzes a lot of what you are saying.
11.20.2006 10:19am
SG (mail):
We give to the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation (or is it Fund?), which provides educational opportunities for the families of Marines who have died in combat. It's a great cause. Also to Excel Academy, a charter junior high school in East Boston that is in the top 10% test scores in Massachusetts (including ahead of some schools in far, far wealthier areas). We don't typically give to the big charities like United Way, preferring instead to choose charities where we believe in the specific cause.
11.20.2006 10:19am
Amber (www):
HfH is dumb because it's inefficient. I worked on a Habitat house for a public service project when I summered at a law firm. The amount of work done by untrained law students was minimal. For the rates we billed, we could have paid for a work crew to finish practically the entire house. Instead, the house worked on by the previous year's summer associates was still unfinished a year later and who knows when the one I "helped" build got done. Meanwhile, the (allegedly) deserving poor remained in substandard housing.

If you care about providing decent housing for the poor, HfH is not the way to go. It does make you feel all warm and fuzzy, though.
11.20.2006 10:27am
Amber (www):
HfH is dumb because it's inefficient. I worked on a Habitat house for a public service project when I summered at a law firm. The amount of work done by untrained law students was minimal. For the rates we billed, we could have paid for a work crew to finish practically the entire house. Instead, the house worked on by the previous year's summer associates was still unfinished a year later and who knows when the one I "helped" build got done. Meanwhile, the (allegedly) deserving poor remained in substandard housing.

If you care about providing decent housing for the poor, HfH is not the way to go. It does make you feel all warm and fuzzy, though.
11.20.2006 10:27am
A.C.:
I give to a local group that provides both temporary food and shelter for the homeless and job training/placement services for people in the shelter system or in danger of entering it. I also give to a local battered women's shelter and to the animal rescue group where I got my pets. As for international charities, I look for a high percentage of donations going into the field and for specific, tangible projects like providing safe drinking water.
11.20.2006 10:33am
tefta2 (mail):
We support only our local, unaffiliated library and humane society. Both are funded by local taxes and manned mostly by energetic caring volunteers many of whom are retired professionals, keeping costs at rock bottom. On the larger scene, we only give to the Salvation Army.

Giving your money to those other charities is like tossing into the fire.
11.20.2006 10:35am
Mike Brown (mail):
Mostly, my donations go to:

Boy Scouts
Red Cross
Rotary Foundation
11.20.2006 10:37am
Mike Brown (mail):
Sorry, forgot the "and why" part of the question:

Boy Scouts - as a volunteer for over 30 years, I've seen the direct benefit to the boys I've worked with.

Red Cross - I like the work they do for disaster relief and emergency service, and I've worked with them for many years, too.

Rotary Foundation - primarily the effort to eradicate polio, and the system of investing the money for 3 years so that all of what you donate goes for the charitable work (the interest for 3 years pays for the overhead)
11.20.2006 10:41am
LTEC (mail) (www):
Some remarks on Habitat for Humanity:

1) The choice of beneficiary seems arbitrary. Maybe "rich", maybe poor -- does anyone really care (see 3 below)?

2) Why give a house? I grew up comfortably middle class and my family never owned a home -- not even a condo? What's wrong with renting (see 3 below)?

3) I think HfH is really about the contributors feeling good about themselves. All this stuff about "community volunteers" is really nonsense, the most extreme example being Carter's photo ops. If you are a poorish person with skills in the construction industry, then it makes sense to contribute your time and muscle. Otherwise you should spend your time doing what you do best, and contribute your MONEY to a good cause. That's right: MONEY. The HfH people don't seem to believe in currency (and maybe not even barter) and I think that is the real reason that they don't see renting, or even cheap condos, as a good option.
11.20.2006 10:44am
buddingeconomist:
"For the rates we billed, we could have paid for a work crew to finish practically the entire house. "

Well that was jerky of you!

Your experience is probably not representative though. Every local Habitat is different and most don't hire anyone to help build -- its all done by volunteers.
11.20.2006 10:47am
buddingeconomist:
LTEC:

1. Not sure what you mean. I think it goes to working poor which means people who need help but aren't bums trying to live off government.

2. Because renting is just pouring your money into a black hole as far as your future is concerned. Owning gives a family their first investment, something they care about, something they can feel proud of; they may be able to own it completely one day and then never have a monthly bill again. This is something to work toward and is indeed a real investment -- investing in their future. There could be nothing more worthwhile for a struggling family.

3. I have never helped build because I agree that I would be useless for that purpose and do better working and taking my hourly rate and sending it to them -- so that is what I do; I donate MONEY to Habitat.
11.20.2006 10:51am
JRSTL:
I donate to my local food bank as often as I can. My two favorite specific charities are Catholic Relief Services and Christian Appalachian Project (CAP), and I'm not even Christian. Attended a Jesuit high school and had direct contact with both of those charities, and they simply make the most out of the resources they have. Speaking of Jesuit high schools, if anyone is in the Cincinnati area PLEASE give to the St. Xavier Advent Canned Food Drive. Those kids rake in well over 100,000 lbs. a year and help tons of families in Cincy, Lancaster, Ivanhoe, and elsewhere in Appalachia.
11.20.2006 10:59am
LTEC (mail) (www):
I wrote my last comment before seeing that of Amber, which says some similar things.

Some comments on another of my unliked charities:
Special Olympics. I like the goal of improving the lives of mentally retarded children. But:

1) Is SO even a remotely good path toward this goal? Is sending the children around the world to compete in useless and often depressing competitions a good way to spend money?

2) How many children are harmed by SO? Some must realize they are being condescended to. Some must feel bad because the are losing yet again -- and even losing to other retarded people. While some benefit from all the traveling, others may be traumatized by it. I've never seen any attempt whatsoever by SO advocates to discuss this, so I have no reason to believe that SO does more good than harm, let alone significantly more good than harm.
11.20.2006 11:01am
BobH (mail):
Disabled American Veterans, American Cancer Society, and local branch of the Red Cross
11.20.2006 11:09am
BobH (mail):
Oh, and in-kind contributions to a local (I think) organization called Out of the Closet -- which runs thrift stores whose proceeds go to AIDS research.
11.20.2006 11:11am
gawaine (mail):
My choices are based on knowing what good an organization will do with my money. I like to find out as much as I can about a place before giving them anything. I prefer either smaller charities, or targeted work within a larger organization. That's not for any rational reason, it's just because I can see what my little donations can do. I would probably think differently if I was Warren Buffet.

I'll sign up for memberships if I also want to make a statement. I won't sign up for memberships, even if it's a good cause, if I can't align myself with a majority of their political views. Hence, no membership in local public radio.

Compassion International - I've known people that worked for/with them, and know they've got a good administrative ratio compared to other, similar, groups. Besides, it's easy to set up regular charges to my credit card, so it doesn't rely on my reprioritizing.

Prison Fellowship - Sure, they're religious. The christmas angel program, though (presents to kids of prisoners) is a huge help, and some of their prison outreach programs have had a great effect, where they haven't been prohibited by law.

CARE - Recommended by a family member who was a missionary in Haiti, due to what they've done after disasters there.

Mission Aviation Fellowship - One thing about market pricing - planes don't fly to places that there's no profit in flying to, especially if disease and violence are there. MAF helps keep a lot of long-term missionaries going, out away from the cities. This includes doctors, builders, and teachers.

The EFF - Even though they seem to have come up on the losing side a fair bit, I figure their number of members may at least strengthen the weight given by politicos to their talk.

The Red Cross - Gets a little money from me, but not much. Way too many scandals, too much administrative costs, too much politicking.

The Local Library, and Salvation Army - No money, really, just lots and lots of extraneous stuff. Most of the time, it's not worth my tine to try and sell something online, when I can donate it. Before I had a real job, and could place a dollar value on my time and deduct donations, I probably would have tried to sell more things at a buck or two a piece, just to get something out of it. If there wasn't a tax deduction, and I couldn't sell it, I might have just thrown these things away rather than donate them.

HfH - Haven't done anything for them in years. I think some of the disagreements about their effectiveness in the comments may be regional. They're very different from place to place, in terms of how selective they are and how much they expect from individuals. Larger cities with more expensive land make things different, as do areas with lots of companies that want to send people out for a day to help and then forget it. I think the model just works better in some places and with some people than others.

Bloggers and Webcomic authors - Not on a regular basis, but based on what I know about peoples' needs and what I figure I'm using of their services. If someone's just had a child, or just had surgery, it's nice to be able to help out.
11.20.2006 11:14am
Adam:
Israel Free Loan Association: http://www.freeloan.org.il/

Free loans, not handouts. The highest form of charity is helping someone become self-sustaining. There are probably free loan associations for other countries/cities.
11.20.2006 11:22am
buddingeconomist:
"The highest form of charity is helping someone become self-sustaining. " - which sums up my point about HfH.
11.20.2006 11:24am
Strom Thurmond (mail):
I believe in cutting out the middleman, I buy 4 kegs of Beer(Domestic, Domestic Light, Imported, Imported Light)50 cartons of cigs, and $1000 in dollar bills, set it up on the basketball courts in the local park and watch the fun.
11.20.2006 11:38am
Sparky:
I try to stick with local charities that serve basic human needs, such as food and shelter (rather than education or the arts), with a preference for Jewish charities.

Accordingly, I try to donate exclusively to Mazon, the L.A. Mission, and my small town's "Family Emergency Fund."

When a major disaster hits, such as the Asian tsunami, or Hurricane Katrina, I have trouble saying no. However, I still try to direct my money to some small, local charity "on the ground." For example, after Katrina, I donated to Chabad of New Orleans rather than to the Red Cross.

Having said all that, if someone I like or admire hits me up for their own favorite charity, I tend to be a soft touch. That's true even when the hitter-up is an organization, such as Starbucks, or a celebrity, such as Benji Schwimmer.
11.20.2006 11:50am
Lonely Capitalist (mail):
My favorite charities are organizations like the Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute because they counteract leftist propaganda and help make the world better!
11.20.2006 11:51am
bob montgomery:
I give money only to my church.

I give clothes to some kind of organization associated with the blind that picks them up from my house. AFB maybe? Can't remember offhand. Give some stuff to the local Goodwill. Give old baby clothes to folks we know that have babies.
11.20.2006 12:06pm
Hattio (mail):
Besides church organizations, I have given to Heifer International. They are a great organization. They combat hunger and poverty by giving folks around the world domesticated animals and the education to care for the animals and process use and market their products. Though it's called Heifer international, they provide people with everything from bees, to chickens to goats. Most of the animals they provide produce not only food but also a marketable product, honey, eggs, or milk. It's really a great program
11.20.2006 12:11pm
Scott Teresi (www):
I don't know if the information is available for someone to make generalizations about Habitat for Humanity. Our local chapter in Columbus, OH, appears to be very well run and seems to have very little connection to the national organization. They survive on donations from local churches and grants and whoever can give them money, and they have been growing steadily. Recently they were given a grant that was tied to the date several houses were completed. I believe they completed most if not all of the houses by the deadline. The fact that they succeeded was probably highly dependent on the effectiveness of the project managers, and the resources they had.

Many aspects of building the houses depend on professional contractors (e.g. wiring) which either donate their time or are paid normally. Simpler tasks which I've been involved in are things like putting up siding, putting in windows, painting, and cutting and nailing roof sheeting. These are things which took a couple hours of instruction at the beginning of the day, and then afterward I was more or less autonomous and could even teach others. If I had worked with them consistently, I would have developed enough simple skills to find something to do on most houses during any stage of their construction. I don't make a lot of money in my day job, so my labor was probably more valuable than any donation I could manage.
11.20.2006 12:30pm
Realist Liberal:
Being a married law student with two kids, we don't have a lot of money to donate. However, we do volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. Also, we donate to a shelter in the city I grew up in. It does a lot more than just food and shelter. There is a medical clinic, dental clinic, mental health clinic, legal services and a referal service for people who really want to get out of their current situation.
11.20.2006 12:32pm
te:
Ducks Unlimited
Nature Conservancy
Does the NRA count as a charity? :)
11.20.2006 12:36pm
loumf:
I generally try to support charities with money if my friends are supporting them with work. In the past this has meant giving to Habitat for Humanities, Avon's Breast Cancer Walk, NYC's Welfare Law Center, but I was never a repeat or sustaining giver to any of these. I also give to groups that I personally volunteer for.

In other giving I prefer to concentrate on local small non-profits where it's easier to follow what they exactly do with the money. I feel like my money has more impact when giving to something small, and the only way to do that in an informed way is to do it close to home (I live in a semi-rural part of Western MA).

The only thing that doesn't fit into those categories is the EFF — I am a software developer and was convinced by Lessig's presentation for why I should do so

http://randomfoo.net/oscon/2002/lessig/
11.20.2006 12:52pm
WILL FREISMUTH:
I give blood regularly. People need it, I've it
to spare and the local blood service ( independent)
gives me cool T-shirts.
On the other hand the administrators are as
elitest and condescending as the local public
radio people. When you go to their web site and
click on contact info, it's not about contacting
them with feedback or suggestions, it's about
setting up corporate drives.
When you phone them you get at least 45 seconds
of a commercial like speech from the President
before you get to the options menu.
Still it's a good thing. I know people whose lives
have been saved by the blood being there. And there
isn't really any substitute.
11.20.2006 12:54pm
WILL FREISMUTH:
Forgot to mention. I almost always give a buck
to street guys.
Because Jesus said give alms to all who ask.
And because it pisses off the liberals who run
the organized charitites, and want to control
everyone and everything.
11.20.2006 12:57pm
SailorDave (www):
Heifer International. They give livestock to the rural poor, primarily in less developed countries.

Insitute for OneWorld Health. They are a nonprofit pharmaceutical company, researching cures for all the little-known diseases endemic in poor countries; their first drug has just been approved in India to treat Leishmaniasis. IMHO, the world needs more charitable research into the diseases of poverty much more than it needs more charity for heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and all the other 1st world diseases.

Episcopal Relief and Development -- my particular church's global relief fund. I trust a global charity with a network of members and clergy on the ground to allocate resources efficiently much more than I do a bureaucracy staffed mainly by liberal Americans in suits. Note they are an anti-poverty group, not a church; I don't think Orin's distinction makes any sense unless it is based on purposes rather than affiliations.
11.20.2006 1:01pm
Jeek:
it pisses off the liberals who run the organized charitites, and want to control everyone and everything.

Never mind that most of the street guys are mentally ill, and would be far better off in an institution where they could be controlled for their own safety and well being...
11.20.2006 1:22pm
jimsjournal (www):
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (they used to be known as Juvenile Diabetes Foundation but added the word "Reasearch" to their name to underscore that they are dedicated to raising funds for research to find a cure for juvenile diabetes (also known as "type 1 diabetes" and "juvenile-onset diabetes).

Rhode Island United Way -- which gives me an opportunity to aid a variety of organizations in my area in an efficient way (since the RI United Way overhead is picked up by an endowment they were given, my donations go to help rather than to fund-raising expenses)

I usually give blood around five times a year but I am temporarily unable to donate for a year due to foreign travel.

I also donate to local foodbanks, Salvation Army, etc.
11.20.2006 1:23pm
WILL FREISMUTH:

Never mind that most of the street guys are mentally ill, and would be far better off in an institution where they could be controlled for their own safety and well being...

And until you can summon the will to coerce them or
an argument to convince them I guess it's better to
be hungry and mentally ill, rather than mentally ill
alone.
or we could starve them onto the reservations. Worked
for the Indians.
11.20.2006 1:39pm
Jeek:
I think we should coerce them!

We certainly shouldn't pretend they're living in some sort of libertarian paradise, as if the "freedom" to be hungry, cold, and victimized on the street actually means something.
11.20.2006 2:03pm
Adam (mail) (www):
I'm on the board of directors of the Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness, where we're implementing a "housing first" philosophy and trying to end the shelter system. It's cheaper and more effective to get people into subsidized apartments and *then* deal with their problems than to try to provide supportive services to people without a permanent place to call their own.
11.20.2006 2:26pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Frankly I don't really believe much in donating to charitable causes that aren't political in nature. As someone else here said I think my money has far more impact by influencing the direction government moves as opposed to direct giving. This doesn't need to be a pro-government spending point, I tend to think that just influencing the government to lower trade barriers and favoring free trade helps the third world far more than my direct contribution could make.

Still occasionally I will donate to a group using money for research. Giving money to a person just makes that one individual happier for a short period of time.

However, money spent in research puts our species that much further ahead for the rest of time. If my money makes the next advancements come five minutes before they would have otherwise then the advancements building on those will also be five minutes ahead and so on forever. I believe that in the long run this means money spent on research has a far greater net increase in happiness than that spent on direct aid to individuals.

In fact in the long run it is far from clear to me whether individual aid in places like Africa does more good than harm, not only may it foster dependence but it enlarges the population. While it may seem like a harsh line to take if we aren't yet able to eliminate poverty and hunger might we not just be increasing the numbers of people who will experience these harms in the next generation by increasing the survivability of this one.

Of course genuine infrastructure improvements in these third world countries might have the same sort of indefinite benefit that research advancements do. The problem here is that no one seems to know what works.
11.20.2006 2:39pm
velvel in atlanta (mail):
Among other things (like legal pro bono),I contribute time and money to Jewish National Fund (who are not not just planting trees but do water research and have visitors come from across the world to learn new methods, build reserviors that benefit Israel and Jordan and the Palestinian areas and have redone migratory bird facilities), American Red Cross (who poke holes in my arm regularly), and a microloan group whose clients borrow $2500 or less (at times $150 or so) to start cottage businesses where none existed before, and Heifer International who do small agricultural grants in undeveloped places. These are groups with big imaginations.
11.20.2006 2:43pm
JBL:
Most of my donations go to the local United Way. They're relatively efficient and they do a good job of targeting root causes, not just symptoms. The various complaints I've heard about the United Way either don't apply to the local organization or aren't really problems.

Most of my international donations go to microlending and similar development efforts.
11.20.2006 3:40pm
perraa (mail):
I give to SOME (So Others Might Eat), the House of Ruth (a battered women shelter), my church, and Heifer International on a yearly basis.
After the tsunami and hurricane Katrina, I donated to the Red Cross, but I normally focus my giving on local charities.
11.20.2006 4:28pm
Proud to be a liberal :
The Special Olympics is a great program because it encourages people with disabilties to participate in athletics. As a lawyer, I have had numerous clients who have participated, and I have never heard any family member, participant, or anyone else tell me that it was a bad experience.
People who don't want to travel do not have to. But there are still many people with developmental disabilities who live in state institutions. They enjoy having the opportunity to travel and go someplace else.

As for my personal donations, I give to our local community non-profit (Just donated pumpkin bread and other food for Thanksgiving today), local schools, the zoo, Heifer, occasionally the Red Cross, and the American Cancer Society. If a family member of a friend or relative dies, I give to whatever charity is designated by the surviving family members.
11.20.2006 4:41pm
Aaron:
I donate to the United Way, Big Brother/Big Sisters (time as well as cash), my surplus goods to GoodWill, as well as various research groups.

Also, when I lived in NY, you could donate all or part of your tax refund to Breast Cancer Research; I did that every year that I paid taxes there.
11.20.2006 5:37pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
Money (actually, appreciated stock, which is more tax-efficient):

Music at Menlo (a chamber music series at Menlo School in Menlo Park, California)
Salvation Army
Boy Scouts of America
Foundation for Invididual Rights in Education
Spirit of America (to support activities of soldiers, Marines, etc. rebuilding Iraq and generally doing good things for Iraqis)
Stanford Blood Center

My blood (specifically, platelets and sometimes plasma, every four weeks):

Stanford Blood Center
11.20.2006 6:03pm
Fletcher Reede (mail) (www):
Buddingeconomist:

I believe you misinterpreted Amber's point. She wasn't saying they billed the HfH people. She was saying that the firm she was working for (that sponsored the volunteering) billed clients at very high rates, such that they could have instead worked at their normal job for the day and used the money billed to pay for work crews to do a far better job on the house than they had done.
11.20.2006 6:09pm
NRWO:
I give mostly to my church, Our Lady of the Atonement, and to Catholic Charities.
11.20.2006 6:22pm
NRWO:
Mea culpa, Orin.

I should have read your instructions before posting. I give just about nothing to secular organizations.
11.20.2006 6:28pm
kjm35:
I've had extensive experience with Special Olympics programs in a variety of regions as the sibling of a participant, a volunteer, and a professional service provider to disabled individuals. Their mission is modest: to provide athletic programs in a variety of sports for intellectually disabled (mentally retarded) individuals, and foster the sort of benefits that most people associate with athletic competition in general. I'm puzzled by LTEC's concerns, which suggest a lack of familiarity with the organization and with the population of individuals who have intellectual disabilities.

Some factual quibbles: SO is open to both children and adults, and the vast majority of their events are held at the local and regional level. In that way SO is similar to Little League, interscholastic sports, or the softball leagues that are popular with many "normal" adults. Extensive travel is a part of the SO experience only for a few very committed athletes, and most of those people are adults or teens.

It may be difficult for people who are unfamiliar with the realities of living with an intellectual disability in our society to realize what an enourmous difference athletic competition can make in such a person's quality of life and productivity, and how few opportunities there are for intellectually disabled individuals to learn to work as a team, get exercise, build confidence, and be recognized for their achievements.

Characterizing SO events as "useless and often depressing" where athletes "are losing yet again," and speculating that it is traumatic to lose "to other retarded people," does not reflect the reality of SO. The events are fun and uplifting experiences for the athletes even if others find them useless. Moreover, SO creates an environment where everyone strives to win but sportsmanship and the pure joy of competing are also stressed, such that everyone seems to keep things in perspective.

Certainly SO is not for everyone. And one could make a compelling argument that charitable dollars are better spent on more pressing needs, both for people with disabilities and others. But Special Olympics deserves a fair hearing, because it offers opportunities that are often not available elsewhere, and has been a very positive presence in the lives of most of its athletes.
11.20.2006 8:35pm
TomFromMD (mail):
I find it hard to believe that Food for the Poor is that efficient, given the massive amount of crap they sent me. Calendars, odd size envelopes - once they spent over $3 sending me solicitations in this tube designed to look like one used for a blueprint. That's why they lost my money. They SEEM efficient if you look at their overall numbers - but if you look at the breakdown in dollars vs goods, they spend a lot of dollars going after cash contributions - it's just that they get enough goods that it evens things out.


I like PATH - they work on global health - malaria, etc. Gates gives them a ton of money.
11.20.2006 10:27pm
Casey Pick (mail):
World Relief - I found out about the organization through my church. They do microlending, HIV/AIDS prevention education, maternal/child health, disaster relief and development work in the third world. We've sent teams from the congregation to partner with them in Cambodia, and their work is impressive.

Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, and the Ali Forney Center in New York - both organizations provide significant assistance for GLBT homeless youth, which is important since many homeless shelters are dangerous for the non-straight, and GLBT kids are a disproportionate percentage of urban homeless youth (between 20-40%, depending on what study you read).

Red Cross - blood, not money. Just feels good.
11.22.2006 7:29am
Tom952 (mail):
Regional children's wish groups (several)
Scholorship fund for children of deceased military

I avoid big professionally run charities.
11.23.2006 9:44am
Visitor Again:
I live in a ghetoo. I give small amounts to people who really need it. I let a family sleep in the back of my panelled truck. I buy food for those who need it. These are mostly people in my neighborhood and I know they are not wasteful or drug addicts or alcoholics. And you know what? I had an annus horribilus this year--blind from cataracts, laid up for months with a broken hip, short of breath at times from the onset of emphysema--and a couple of months I was badly short of money. I didn't say a word, but people heard.. The ones I had helped and other neighbors came to help me, not always monetarily, but by, for example, lifting me up and down the stairs in a sheet when I had to go to the doctor;s, moving my car for me on no parking days, shopping for me, fixing my car, washing my car, and so on. He who gives shall get his return.
11.25.2006 12:51am
Visitor Again:
An addendum to the above. It may not be irrelevant that I am a white male, the only one, living among African-Americans in my neighborhood. I truly believe that if we get to know each other, we can, in Rodney King;s words, all get along. I love my neighbors.
11.25.2006 1:01am