With all the ads on my tv and computer, and gift guides popping up all over the blogland telling us to buy buy buy….I start to lose a bit of the true spirit of the Christmas season. My earlier gift guide published last week was one little attempt to counter to the shopaholic bender we’re on….I made suggestions for giving beloved gifts that are both inexpensive – and come from the heart. (See that post HERE)
Today I wanted to share some of my own favorite charities – and what I like about them. I’ll also share some ways you can give to these or similar charities in honor of your friends and family, while still having a little something to wrap up with a bow! As in my other gift guide, I’m sharing no affiliate links…this is all pure and simple sharing of what I love. With no gain for me in it!)
So without further ado…my charity roundup. As I was typing this post, I also made a gift to each one, I couldn’t help myself! 🙂
- Gift Catalogs. There are a number of organizations that have catalogs of items you can give in honor of your loved ones…the organization I have a real soft spot for is World Vision, as I used to work there. I saw how the work was done, and stayed there over 12 years because of it. I love their ethos, giving without strings…they don’t require that beneficiaries watch a film or accept Jesus before getting benefits, and that kind of giving leaves people the freedom to wonder why those crazy Christians give so generously….and then they ask questions. That’s the best way to share the Good News…”Preach the Gospel at all times…if necessary, use words.” The most popular gift in the catalog has always been the goats….so I drew the goats pictured while on a plane the other day (inktense pencils in my watercolor sketchbook). If you give a goat in honor of your loved one (yout can also give a goat that’ll be sent to a woman!), you’ll receive a card that you can wrap up for your recipient, but I’d recommend adding a stuffed goat, maybe like this one. (Doesn’t he look just like the ones I drew?) Or a goat ornament. Or perhaps some goat cheese! Anything that would be a fun way to let them know there’s a goat saving a life somewhere in the world, because of the gift given in their name.
- Charity Water. In the developed world, we take for granted that we have water coming out of our tap. One flip of a handle and we have safe, drinkable water. In so many parts of the world, though, that’s not only NOT the reality – but there are places where the idea of having water within an hour’s walk isn’t even something they know could exist. World Vision, mentioned above, has clean water in their catalog too – but I thought I’d highlight Charity Water, too, because they also do great work! A simple gift of $30 brings clean water to one person….one person who will be so grateful that some anonymous person (you!) cared enough to bring them clean water. A suggestion: wrap up two glasses in a box for your recipient – one very dirty glass (mess it up with some muddy water to make it cloudy) and one sparkling clean. It’s a unique way to educate your family and share your values with them! You might also get together with your extended family and agree to go in together to build a well instead of exchanging gifts—and leave a family legacy!
- Serving the elderly. When I did my tag and donation giveaway a few weeks ago, I noticed in comments that a large number of folks requested donations for the senior population, so I’ve looked at a bunch of charities you may be interested in. Many of us have had parents or grandparents whose circumstances motivate us to give to fight alzheimers (Alzheimers Association), combat cancer (American Cancer Society), or to bring meals to the homebound (Meals on Wheels). The Salvation Army has programs for the elderly as well as other populations – and they’re celebrating 125 years of the Red Kettle, so be sure to keep change in your pocket when you’re out and about! So what would you wrap up if you gave a gift to one of these organizations in someone’s honor? Find an item appropriate to the charity…a datebook for Alzheimers charities; a potted plant with pink flowers for a cancer charity; a favorite food or small kitchen gadget for meal deliveries. Think creatively!
- Honor cards. A number of organizations have “gift cards” or “honor cards” they will send you to give to your recipient—or they’ll send it directly. Heifer, a charity focusing primarily on animals and the impact they have in lifting people out of poverty, has what I think are the best honor cards – you can choose from a number of different types with different messages (Christmas, birthday, etc.).. (You’ve gotta see their goat photo – the sweater is hilarious.) Giving a cow costs $500, but Heifer allows you to give any scaled amount toward that. With ANY charity you give to, poke around on their site to find out if they have honor cards or gift cards – sometimes they’re real “physical” ones, sometimes virtual e-cards…and some of those you can schedule to be delivered Christmas morning. Giving this way is a good thing to tuck in the back of your mind if you reach Christmas Eve and haven’t yet found the perfect gift for someone. A quick visit online and a printable card, and you’re good to go!
- Military. As you probably know, I have a heart for our military. I founded and operated Operation Write Home since 2007, and it’ll be coming to a final end on Dec 31st this year. But that doesn’t mean I walk away from our service members! As someone who knows charities, and our military, I’ve done a good bit of research, and topmost by miles is the USO, the best-run organization serving our heroes, and a donation to their work is the perfect gift for any veteran on your Christmas list. Suggested items to wrap up with a gift like this? A patriotic item of home decor, or a stars-and-stripes pin or tshirt. Or if your recipient is a veteran of a particular branch, then they’ll love a tshirt or other item with their emblem!
- Animals. There are lots of charities dedicated to saving animals…and I know from comments that local ASPCA and Humane Society chapters are a favorite for many of you! I’m a big believer in supporting your local chapter of whatever organization you choose; you can physically visit them to assure your gifts are used well. And if you’re giving to your cat-loving Aunt Ethel in another state – research the animal welfare charities in her community, and give there. She’ll appreciate the custom touch! Along with any gift to an animal charity, give a book of cat or dog cartoons, a stuffed animal or statuette of the person’s pet – or check out the jewelry at Adorn the Hunter, a company that I’ve bought a rings from this year. Lots of critter goodies!
I didn’t even go into so many other charity sectors I love to give to – a local church, sponsoring children, caring for the homeless locally, saving wildlife, public radio and television – among SO many others. Just think about what matters to you or your recipient – and do something to help!
Please do not leave comments on this post trashing any charities you dislike – either orgs I have listed, nor those that you’ve had bad experiences with; 97% charities are doing the best they can with the skills they have. Be kind…and see the notes below.
A few notes about charitable giving
Depending on the type of person you are – you may feel comfortable just giving to a charity on the recommendation of a friend. Or you might be the type who wants to do some research. I do a bit of both; when I gave to the 24 charities a few weeks ago, I didn’t do deep research; I gave because the winners recommended those as their favorite charities. But when I make a larger donation, I try to make time to dig. A few things to remember:
- Just because a charity has a name that sounds good, or a website that looks good, that doesn’t mean they are actually a well-run organization. I’ve been shocked that charities with lovely names or mission statements are very poorly run.
- Just because someone else recommends a charity that sounds good, that still doesn’t mean they’re well run. I recently made a significant donation on the recommendation of a trusted friend, and I only did my research afterward – to my shock and dismay, it is a financially mismanaged organization, and I’m sure she didn’t look into it when promoting it. But my giving mistake is my own responsibility, not hers; I invite you to do your own research on any of the charities I mention in this post, as well. You alone are responsible for your donations made to charity, so take that responsibility seriously.
- If the news media raises a scandal about one charity in a particular sector, that doesn’t mean all in that sector are bad. Treat every charity as an individual one, and give them the opportunity to present their case independently.
- Most people don’t understand how charitable organizations work. Having spent 12 years working at a major international charity, then 8 years running a very tiny one, I learned a lot that I can’t explain here, but please know a few things as you research:
- Be careful of the standards you use to judge a charity. These are not for-profit businesses, and can’t be evaluated with identical standards.
- The word “nonprofit” does not mean all-volunteer. For most of them, they need leadership at the helm to focus full-time energy on the charity’s work, and that usually requires at least some paid staff. Salaries should be reasonable for the size of the org. Small charities may underpay with minimum wage for an 80 hour work week; but very large charities may pay CEOs a large salary commensurate with their responsibility. Do not judge a multimillion dollar charity that pays leaders well; they fundraise that much because they have talented people running them.
- When planning a significant donation, begin by researching the IRS Form 990 for that charity. It lists the basics of their financial status, including salaries for top leaders and expenses, and how much is spent on programs. Compare those – if that raises red flags, ask questions because the 990 may not tell the entire story. Non-cash giving is not always easily accounted for in the IRS form the way it’s written, yet may be a factor in stretching your donated dollars very far. Annual reports (with audited financials) or annual reviews (without) can fill in the blanks, but for small charities those documents are not legally required; only the 990 is mandatory. The organization should have someone who can talk with you about how their monies are spent and what will be done with your gift.
When I returned from Thanksgiving break, I had some mail from charities (below) that I donated to during the giveaway. While I don’t ever expect more than just an emailed receipt, it was nice that some of the charities did send me a snail mail notification. Some had handwritten personal notes in them too! These were sent by: Bay Area Rescue Mission – Facing Homelessness – Preemptive Love – Mission Arlington
I hope today will be a chance to reconsider some items on your shopping list—-and combine some gift giving with sharing donations with people in need in your community and around the world!