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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.

Volunteer Los Angeles

In a bustling city like Los Angeles, it’s hard to imagine making time for volunteer work. But the volunteer community is surprisingly active in LA, and the number of people who take time out of their busy schedules to help is certainly inspiring. Animal shelters, environmental groups, human rights advocates, and health centers are just among the most popular charities. If you’ve got time or money to spare, you may want to consider giving these groups a hand.

Most major international charities have a strong presence in LA, but there are also small outfits catering to various communities. While not all of them need help throughout the year, it won’t hurt to offer an extra hand if you have some free time. Start by looking up causes you’re interested in, and calling up relevant charities in your area. Find out what kind of work they do and how you can pitch in, depending on your skills and experience.

Some types of volunteer work don’t require any particular experience. These are usually menial tasks like sorting clothes or serving food at a soup kitchen. If you want to take on more responsibility, you can look into administrative, managerial, or marketing positions. You may need to be more experienced and undergo some form of training. The same goes for research, although you may get a recommendation from your school or company. Front-line work, such as manning information booths, may also call for previous work in the field.

If you’re just visiting or don’t want to commit to charity work just yet, consider helping out at seasonal events. Los Angeles hosts music festivals, art shows, and other cultural events throughout the year, and many will be more than happy to take you on board. You can help usher attendees or set up stages, or if you have the skills, you can help organize and promote the event. Most of them are supported by the government and provide excellent professional experience.

One advantage to doing volunteer work is that you get to meet people who share your interests. Many first-timers start out with just a passing interest and end up working with volunteer Los Angeles groups as a career. Some use it as a springboard for other career paths, such as medicine, education, or research. Others just do it for the company. No matter what your reason is, you’re sure to touch other people’s lives just as they’ve touched yours.

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.

Community Service Ideas

Most of us have the will to help, but never really get around to doing so. And often, this is simply because we don’t know what to do or where to start. But opportunities abound all the time; it’s just a matter of knowing what you have to offer and where it’s needed. Community service, after all, is all about giving what you can, whether it’s loose change or a hundred dollars, five minutes or a lifetime.

Food banks and similar organizations are probably the simplest way to lend a hand. Everyone needs food, but not everyone can afford it—and helping out in a food bank or soup kitchen is a way to bridge that gap. You can help out by doing actual kitchen work, serving food, cleaning tables, or supervising operations, whatever you’re best able to do. These are often pretty busy places, so they’re sure to appreciate a helping hand.

If you like the outdoors, an environmental group may be the best fit. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just about planting trees and cleaning the beaches—although you can do that if you’re up to it. Most groups also need a hand in organizing events, writing copy, designing brochures, gathering data, and helping to spread the word by gathering new members. It’s a pretty broad field, and pretty much any skill will come in handy. Think of what you can do best and you’ll get quite a few community service ideas.

A closely related cause is animal rights. Most major cities have animal shelters that take care of lost or abandoned animals. You don’t need to be a vet or have any relevant experience to be able to help; at the very least, you can help feed the animals or give them the occasional walk, or even do some administrative work. Of course, if you want to work in the field in the future, it’s also a great way to gain experience.

Human rights and welfare groups may be a good fit for those who have good people skills or simply like to be around others. Tasks may include offering moral support to abuse victims, tutoring children, or assisting doctors and nurses in public clinics. Again, there’s a wide range to choose from. Even a day of volunteering can make a world of difference in someone’s life. Whatever you end up doing, community service is always time well spent.

Become a Soup Kitchen Volunteer

Soup kitchens came about in the U.S. in the wake of the Great Depression of the 1930s, which left millions unemployed and unable to meet basic food needs. Today they remain a valuable contribution in poor communities, even in relatively prosperous areas. But what’s great about soup kitchens today is that they are run almost entirely by volunteers, people dedicating their time to helping those in need.

Working as a soup kitchen volunteer isn’t as groundbreaking as delivering vaccines to African children, nor is it as professionally rewarding. But its appeal lies in helping people in the most basic of ways—giving them food and water where they would otherwise go hungry. It may not seem obvious, but even in the United States—the world’s epitome of wealth and excess—more than 30 million people go hungry every day. The sheer dedication of volunteers, in soup kitchens and elsewhere, is what keeps these people going and gives them a chance at rebuilding their lives.

Soup is usually served because it’s easy to make in large batches, and because it can take a large variety of ingredients according to the season. Most soup kitchens also serve bread, and are even called “bread lines” in some areas. The meals can be served for free or at a low price, and ingredients are often sourced from local food banks. Soup kitchens are most active during the winter holiday season, where more people are seeking shelter and warm food.

Volunteers for soup kitchens usually come from local organizations, such as anti-poverty groups or churches. If you’re already part of such a group, ask around to see if they’re affiliated with soup kitchens or food banks. Otherwise, you can contact soup kitchens themselves and ask how you can volunteer. It’s a lot of work, so they’re usually happy to have a helping hand. Your tasks may include basic kitchen work and cleaning, but you may be expected to serve food and help usher people around as well.

It may not be the most glamorous of pastimes, but becoming a soup kitchen volunteer can be one of the most rewarding ways to spend your free time. Besides helping your community, you also get to meet interesting people and gain valuable life experience. Next time you have a day or two to spare, spend a few hours in a soup kitchen and help brighten someone else’s day.

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