Choosing Charities

Deciding how and where to give is overwhelming when faced with the flood of pleas on television, in the mail and in my inbox, especially in the last remaining days of the tax year.  I walk around feeling guilty – I should have pledged during the PBS drive because I do believe in quality programming and I don’t think there is enough of it (instead we have MTV’s inane reality show, “Jersey Shore”). I should have thrown in an extra dollar into the Salvation Army pot. I should have put together a package of my daughter’s gently used clothes for poor Ukrainian orphans.

Unfortunately, I don’t have oodles of money like billionaires who can paste their names on everything from  museums (Ukrainian metals magnate Victor Pinchuk and his Pinchuk Art Centre) to universities (real estate mogul Stephen M. Ross and his Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan) to libraries (private equity investor Stephen Schwarzman’s building at the New York Public Library). And I don’t have celebrity power like Madonna or Oprah to raise money for schools in Africa, among other causes.

That’s why Britain’s community activist, Hayley Teague, and her advice to go local makes sense to me (see Speaker’s Corner). Though Hayley was inspired to serve after visiting an AIDS orphanage in South Africa, she decided she could have a bigger impact in her hometown of Mitcham in South London. Going local has taken her to work with youth offenders, act as a drug and alcohol awareness educator, and serve up dinner to those less fortunate on Christmas Day. She has touched the lives of so many who live where she lives, and has made Mitcham a better place.

I am also impressed with organizations that have larger mandates. I think Remote Area Medical which provides free health clinics to those in need is invaluable. I admire the dedication and commitment of those I met with for my profile of the Salvation Army. I also met some very courageous people at Mercy Corps who travel to the core of global conflicts to help the impoverished. Admittedly it is difficult to chose from many such charities.  A few years back,  I worked on Forbes’ America’s 200 Largest U.S. Charities; I think this list is one of the best at pinpointing where dollars are spent and why one charity may be more efficient than another (and deserving of your dollars).

Whether going local or global, it should be a cause dear to your heart. Then you will feel like you made the most difference.

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