Monday, April 28, 2008

Giving is PERSONAL

I love when a charity tells you what $XX buys, and I love it even more when you can choose exactly what your contribution buys. Sounds like I repeated myself, doesn't it. To illustrate the difference, donations to FINCA go into a microloan fund, whereas with Kiva, you can pick exactly which fledgling business you want to loan to. There are other differences between them (donation v. refundable loan, $50 first-time borrowers v. $500 borrowers with a history, etc), but today I'm focusing on how satisfying I find it to sponsor a specific person or small project, and below is a review of some of my favorite ideas, some of which I've given to while others are on deck. I think I developed a penchant for this kind of giving back in elementary school, when they handed out the little cardboard ricebowls for us to assemble and put our small change in...I remember that in 1977, $5 could feed a family in Bangladesh for a week. Call it my first lesson in the value of a dollar.

There is a large "charity warehouse" site that is a true joy for me to leaf through - GlobalGiving. You can pile up your selections in a shopping cart, and there's lots of information about the projects you're supporting, including the charity of origin. The founders are a pair of problem-solvers formerly affiliated with the World Bank. The downside: they take a 10% cut for their operating expenses. The upside: quite a few of the charities are so small and volunteer-driven that it's hard for them to put the manpower into fund-raising, so a site like this puts them on the donor map, and that 10% is well-spent. I also just discovered that GlobalGiving has a blog, so I'll be catching up on that this week. If you want to cut out this middleman, you can check out each charity's website on your own and see if you can send an earmarked donation that way, but I found that most are just set up for contributions to end up in a general fund. Another plus for this site: you can make a difference with as little as $10. Like, you can pay for the training of a Ugandan woman to produce therapeutic food that large charities buy for their emergency starvation projects in Africa...provides income for the woman and a local source of a much-needed product, saving on shipping and promoting sustainability - a project spearheaded by the International Medical Corps. Yeah, $10 doesn't even buy a martini in my 'hood these days.

Even biggies like UNICEF offer this option, labeled "Inspired Gifts" - like $15 for two mosquito nets to help fight malaria, and $17 for 50 liters of therapeutic milk formula for emergency measures to fight starvation.

AfricaAid lets you buy a portion of a project, and fills in each little piece with the donor's name, whether you're contributing $10 to educate 10 kids for a week or $400 for the lunch cook's annual salary. I kinda like this one, especially for a donation gift in someone else's name.

Here's one I'm saving up for: the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Fund, where $100 saves a little girl from bonded servitude, pays her school fees, and provides her family with an income-generating pig. Can you tell how much I love the pig part?

The more grassroots, the better. I like seeing one person or one couple out there trying to make a dent in the problems and imbalances in the world. You just know that if you handed them cash and said "it's for your charity", they wouldn't dream of putting it in their own pocket. That's the kind of people I want to deal with, and their causes are heartfelt and often creative because they answer to no one but their conscience. Yup, my kind of people.

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