Category Archives: Charities

Efficient Charities: The Perfect Holiday Activity

volunteerThe holiday season always brings a touch of generosity to the air, something that retailers are always quick to cash in on. But amidst their gift-shopping and office parties, more and more people are also looking for efficient charities to put their time and money in. The end of the year is a great time to engage in charity work and make donations, especially for poor, war-torn, or disaster-weary communities where a helping hand is always welcome.

There are several good sides to donating to charity, the least of which is that it is tax-deductible in most areas. But for most people, it’s about much more than the tax break. Donating one’s time and energy is a two-way system: making other people happy brings rewards that are greater than any monetary gain or material gift. Here are some reasons why some people tirelessly help and donate—and why you should do the same.

For most people, the mere act of helping others—whether directly or through a small donation—does wonders for their sense of well-being. There is no better feel-good medicine than knowing you have made a positive difference in someone’s life, no matter how small. It spurs them into action to do something more. It can be as small as a quick picker-upper to get through a bad day, or a renewed sense of satisfaction and purpose.

As people donate more or volunteer, they can get quite involved in the cause. You may find yourself researching the cause and educating yourself about the larger social issues surrounding it. It all comes from the sense of purpose mentioned above. Having a cause you feel strongly about is a great motivator, whether it merely helps you get up in the morning or sets you on a more satisfying career path. In any case, it puts you in a better position to help even more.

An often-cited benefit to volunteering is social interaction. Giving your free time to a charity lets you spend time with people who share your interests, people who can either teach you or learn from you. This give-and-take setup makes for a strong community and a better environment than any corporate setting can provide. It also motivates you to keep coming back and urge other people to join in.

Of course, it all starts with finding a worthy cause. This is a personal choice, but you can get started by doing a quick internet search for efficient charities in your area. Starting local will allow you to work more closely with the charity and get to know it better. As with a lot of new endeavors, only that first step is hard to take—once you’ve done it, you’ll want to keep giving!

Charities List: Find out where your help is most needed

Giving is giving, whether it’s a few dollars or a trust fund. But in charity, not all organizations are made equal. “Intelligent giving,” as evaluation website Charity Navigator puts it, is about choosing recipients that make the best use of your money. The site, put up in 2001, offers a charities list for a wide range of categories, and rates them according to financial performance, accountability, and overall effectiveness. Here’s a list of some of its top charities from last year:

MAP International: This Georgia-based group provides community and health development services in over 115 countries, and works with hundreds of smaller organizations to promote its cause. They provide free medicine, push for cleaner water supply, and focus on eliminating disease by fighting its root cause.

Globus Relief: What sets this charity apart is that aims to cooperate rather than compete with its peers. Globus Relief works with other charities to better distribute healthcare resources and make financial resources reach more people. It currently runs over 12,000 projects in over 100 countries, and has given out more than $200 million in health products.

Direct Relief International: California’s biggest humanitarian non-profit, Direct Relief provides healthcare assistance to poverty- and disaster-stricken communities in the U.S. and abroad. Since its opening in 1948, the group has donated $1.6 billion in material resources and consistently led the pack in responding to health emergencies.

Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta: The goal of this group is simple: to help other non-profits and charities flourish. It encourages philanthropy among individuals and businesses, allowing them to use their skills and knowledge to help the community. They also help promote organizational training to make sure local charities are properly run.

Forgotten Harvest: Waste and hunger are the two main issues for this 21-year-old organization. They address them by taking surplus food from groceries, restaurants, and other establishments and giving them away to soup kitchens, food pantries and shelters, where they would otherwise just go to waste. The group “rescues” more than 19 million pounds of Health Department-approved food every year.

American Endowment Foundation: This group helps potential donors find the best ways to use their money. They offer advice on how people contribute, whether in money or assets, and help them decide which charities to support. Although their service is geared towards corporate donors, individuals can pick up a thing or two on giving to charity and getting the most out of their money.

Help a Charity in Africa

As one of the most politically, environmentally, and economically distressed areas in the world, Africa is the go-to place for charity work. It’s inspiring how many people go out of their way to build free clinics, give away food and books, and generally try to make life better for Africans—even if they’re living the sweet life back home. Most of us have something to give, and helping a charity in Africa is a great way to even out the playing field.

Doing your part doesn’t mean packing your bags and flying to Ethiopia (though you can if you want to). Many charities have offices outside the continent that allow people to help in their own way, either through donations or remote work such as administration, fundraising and marketing. It all depends on what you have to offer and where your skills and resources are needed the most. If you have excellent people skills, you can help promote the cause and solicit donations, or perhaps help African immigrants. If you’re trained in healthcare, you can assist in research or work in a local clinic.

World Vision and the Salvation Army are among the biggest names in charity, but some lesser-known ones are also worth a look. These include The Change Exchange, which provides educational support to children, and the Chinansi Foundation, which works in HIV/AIDS research, environmental management, health, education, and food security. In a way, smaller organizations make your money go further because they spend less on overhead costs such as travel and paperwork, which means more of the donations actually reach people in need.

If you have the time and resources, you can even spend some time in Africa and do some hands-on work. Some experience may be necessary for certain tasks, such as administering medicine or teaching young students. But if you’re new to the field, you can help in other ways, even if it’s just delivering goods or helping locals with housework. You may have to pay for your own trip and spring for travel insurance, but as any volunteer will tell you, the experience is more than worth it.

It’s easy to think that one person’s time or money won’t make much of a difference. But like most other things, change is collective: it’s the work of millions of people rather than a select few. Whether you’re carrying water jars or heading a high-profile research team, helping out a charity in Africa is a step in the right direction.

Donating to Top Charities

Whether it’s purely altruistic or want of a tax deduction, donating to charity comes with its own complexities. The most obvious is choosing where to put your money. Local shelters, libraries, multinational organizations—there are at least a dozen in every developed city. How do you know where your money will go farthest?

The top charities are often the most recognizable. The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and the Red Cross are popular examples. But there are smaller ones that may only be known in your city, but are just as meaningful. Large charities reach a greater number of people, and working for them may open up more opportunities to help. It also ensures that your money will go where it’s needed the most. If you want to see immediate change, however, you’ll want to go with a smaller outfit, such as a soup kitchen or tutoring service.

The key is to choose a cause you feel strongly about. Find your general area of interest. Are you particularly attracted to children or animals, or do you feel strongly about protecting the environment? This will narrow down your options and help you focus your money and efforts better. It’s a good feeling knowing that you’ve gone beyond caring and taken concrete action.

You’ll also need to weed out the bad charities. It’s a pretty strong term—charity is charity, after all—but some are more efficient than others. You want to donate to a group that puts most or all of your money into the cause. However, the large majority of charities take some of their overhead costs from donations as well. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it might pay to look into the matter.

In the U.S., charity watchdogs such as GuideStar and the American Institute of Philanthropy monitor charity activities and make sure they do their job. According to the AIP, the top charities allocate no more than 15% of donations to administrative, marketing, and fundraising efforts. Those that put 40% or more into these departments aren’t highly ranked. If you’re concerned about your donations not being tax-deductible, check out Publication 78, a federal document listing all the charities whose donations will earn you a tax cut.

Methods of donation are also worth looking into. While most websites accept donations by credit card, remember that card issuers often take a small percentage from the transaction. Checks and money orders are usually the best way to go, although some groups would rather pay the credit card fee and get their funds immediately. Each organization has its own needs, so it’s best to talk to them personally and learn how you can help.

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