Philanthropy in Tough Times

April 28, 2009
Written by Cathy

2133875401_e9cce8148b Give a hungry man a fish, you have fed him for a day.  Teach a hungry man to fish, you have fed him for a lifetime. – Proverb

I won’t deny it.  I wouldn’t mind being a millionaire.  But I do not want to sell my soul to do it.  I do not want to lose my empathy and understanding for those less fortunate.  Neither do I want to be a participant perpetuating cycles of poverty.  Philanthropy is not just giving money.  It is teaching.  We cannot end the cycle of poverty if we don’t teach others how to do it.

My favorite charities are not ones that many of you already know, like the Red Cross and United Way.  While worthy charities, I don’t feel that I know enough about what I am contributing to.  I donated to United Way after 9/11, and the Red Cross after Katrina.  I admit that I do not know all the things that go into the operations of a charity, but I was disappointed about reports about how the money may have been used.  Or not used.  9/11 firefighters who didn’t have proper medical care is unacceptable.  Katrina victims remained in unsafe conditions for months after the storm.  Those are things I hoped my money would have helped.

Thus, most of my charity money has gone towards a more modern system.  Social lending is worthy of a digital age.  My favorite charities are DonorsChoose.org, Kiva.org, and WomenforWomenInternational.org.

Donor’s Choose is a platform for educational projects.  Schools and education programs should be the highest priorities in our state and federal government, but often are cut during budget deficits.  Donors Choose lets you help teachers and students in your area or nationally in the US.  You choose the programs you want to support.  You choose how much you want to give.  Donors Choose takes a very small percentage of the total fee, which is disclosed when you donate.  You will see exactly how much money Donors Choose is taking for operation costs, and the rest goes to the teachers and students.  When enough people have contributed to the project, Donors Choose sends the check, and you get a very nice letter from the teachers thanking you.  Your contributions count as a tax donation.

Kiva is a lending program for small businesses in third world countries.  Your borrower makes a pitch on where they are from, their business, and how they hope the loan will help them grow their business.  Again, you choose how much you want to donate.  When enough donors have funded, the loan is dispersed.  You get your proportion back as the borrower pays back their loan.  You do not get interest on the loan, although interest is charged and collected by the loan company.  You only get back what you paid, with no interest accrued.  If you want a return on your investment, I recommend Lending Club or Prosper.  Kiva is a charity where you will get your principal, not a profit. 

Women for Women International helps women rebuild their lives after being victimized by war. Studies have shown that the key to beating poverty and stabilizing war ravaged countries is by helping women rebuild their lives.  If a woman is worried about feeding herself and her children, she will not care that her food and shelter comes from an oppressive government.  However, if you give her the tools to rebuild her home and business, she will seek to better her community.

Times are tough for many of us right now, and giving to charities may be the last thing on your mind.  If you are in debt, in danger of losing your home, or worried about your next meal, then you should take care of you and your family first.  If you do happen to be lucky enough to be ok, then please consider giving to someone or something that you believe in.

I’m really happy every time I get a letter from teachers and school children telling me about what they’re learning with my donation.  I wonder how the experience will influence those kids in the future.  I hope that in some small way, I have given them something to look forward to in tough times.

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4 Responses to “Philanthropy in Tough Times”

  1. While I think it is great for people to donate money to organizations (they couldn’t operate without the generosity of individuals), I find more reward in participating actively in volunteer organizations, though I don’t do it nearly as much as I should.

    I was able to spend some time at the Gulf Coast after Katrina, cooking and feeding people who were left behind or who chose to stay behind and that was a very formative point in my life and made me realize what was important to me.

    Kudos on the donations, without you there would be no them.

  2. That’s great you volunteered, Steven! I wish I had, and I regret not having done so.

    Donations and helping others isn’t just money, which I will discuss in another article. I just wanted to introduce some of my favorite social lending charities. :)

  3. My wife and I could definitely do a much better job in the giving category. We do give a small amount of money and always look for ways to give time/effort, but I know we aren’t doing enough.

    Thanks for the little push we needed!

  4. Hi, Baker! With your vacation/move coming up, donating might be a way to help offload some of your extra stuff! :)

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