So What Now?

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In light of the controversy over Invisible Children, I’m going to spend a good part of International Women’s Day highlighting some charities and non-profits that could very well be worth your time. As always, I recommend a strong vetting process before your dollars get spent on something, especially if you are trying to do good in the world. Don’t support these just because I said to. Here’s the list of charities. All of them receive four star ratings on Charity Navigator and have a personal recommendation from either myself or people who have interacted with these charities.

Kiva

What it is: Kiva functions by giving microfinance loans to small business owners in the developing world. You give Kiva $25 (or whatever) to make a loan to a small business. This business person uses the loan to get their business going, and then pays it back to Kiva. You then have the option of reinvesting or withdrawing your principal loan.

Why it’s good: One goal of charity that moves from a developed country to a developing one needs to be to avoid imperialism, and promote empowerment of local businesses and economies. As I said yesterday, we’re not always good at doing this. We tend to think – conscious or not – that we Americans will come in and just FIX everything. But that’s not sustainable. What Kiva does is look where the money is and uses wealth to invest in local businesses on a long term, sustainable basis. It doesn’t condescend, it doesn’t give handouts (they are required to pay back the loan), and it empowers the people.

Important Note: Kiva is currently running a promotion, thanks to a large donation from the founder of LinkedIn – your first $25 loan is free. Basically, you can sign up, try out Kiva, and not actually have to pay anything for the first loan. This allows you to see it at work without any financial risk to yourself. Do it!

The Special Olympics

What it is: The Special Olympics is an international organization aimed at helping disabled people of all stripes not only live their lives, but live their lives WELL. They run sports leagues of all kinds to give disabled people a community and a quality of life that is better.

Why it’s good: My family has been involved in Special Olympics for almost thirty years, due to the fact that my oldest brother – MJ – has Down Syndrome. As a result, this charity is very personal to me and I’ve seen the good effects it has. MJ is involved in SO year round, from basketball to bowling to softball. For him, SO has as high of stakes as the real Olympics, and it’s something that helps him feel accepted and normal. The SO community is supportive and real, and well-worth your time and effort.

If you can’t pay: Look into your local chapter of Special Olympics and look for volunteer opportunities – they’re always in need of coaches and assistant coaches, scorekeepers, and chaperones for tournaments. Some areas even have unified leagues where abled and disabled play alongside each other (it’s not as unbalanced as one would think!). Definitely check it out!

826 Centers*

What they are: Located in several large cities around the United States, the 826 Centers are a unique take on after-school tutoring. Each center has a storefront with a different theme, and a backroom in which the tutoring occurs. For example, the one I volunteer for is secret-spy themed (called The Boring Store). They provide after-school tutoring for all ages K-18, and creative programs centered on writing work. They also self-publish student work in books. Really, they do a lot of great stuff.

Why it’s good: Frankly, if I have to explain to you why providing after school tutoring free of charge is good for inner city areas, then you really need to check yourself. 826 Centers value the student as a whole person, and encourage them to be the best they can be. A lot of their clients are students who have been told that they are not worth their teachers’ time and don’t think they’re any good. 826 Centers work to correct that. Look up the one nearest to you, and pay the store a visit!

*Note: This is the only charity that does not have a charity navigator rating, and I’m not sure why that is. However, the reputations of those in charge and my personal experience with the organization lead me to recommend them, regardless.

Blood:Water Mission

What it is: Blood:Water sees two major issues facing the African people right now – the AIDS epidemic, and lack of clean water. They partner with local charities to find the best ways to solve the issue in that area. They help build wells, and provide AIDS testing and medical care.

Why it’s good: Partnership. I’ve been supporting Blood:Water off and on since my senior year of college solely because of their partnership model. When you give them money, you’re not donating to a huge American organization that’s there to “solve problems,” but to a place that, like Kiva, helps provide resources and funding so that local charities can do their work.

OxFam

What it is: OxFam is an organization I was first introduced to when I was living in Oxford, England. There’s OxFam International, headquartered in London, and OxFam outlets in most majored developed countries, which gives it an interconnected but also local reach. Thus, it’s hard to sum up what OxFam as a whole does because it changes depending on country and location. However, the overall stated goal is to work to find solutions to extreme poverty and related injustices all over the world. They do this by empowering local people with regards to their rights, their private businesses, and their lives.

Why it’s good: I love that OxFam not only takes an empowerment approach but also one that makes sure locals know and fight for their rights as people. This means that they emphasize the unique dignity of each and every person they help, which is something I look for in any charity I support.

Planned Parenthood

What it is: Planned Parenthood for America is a network of clinics around the United States that provide free or low-cost health care to women (and men, though most of their clientele is women). It is a vital service in many cities where seeing an OB/GYN in a hospital either requires insurance or an exorbitant out of pocket cost. They provide everything from well-woman appointments, counseling, breast cancer exams (and subsidized mammograms at hospitals), to prenatal testing and, yes, pregnancy and prenatal care (this does not mean that they counsel all pregnant women to get abortions. If that is what you believe they do, get off my blog and learn something). They also help with post-natal care and check ups.

Why it’s good: Health is extremely important, and access to low cost or free birth control is vital for women around the US (and around the world, but PP hasn’t expanded that far). In many areas, PP is the only low-cost clinic around, and they’re constantly fighting closure because of the fact that they also provide abortions (though they do not profit from abortions as they remain a non-profit). This is, of course, my recommendation, as a client of Planned Parenthood, and if your conscience guides you differently, so be it. But, on this one especially, I would urge to make sure you have all the facts at hand before you go off on how they’re the source of all that is wrong with the world (here’s looking at you, Ross Douthat).

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This is, of course, merely a small sampling of the thousands of charities. It can be very hard to find one that works for you, and sometimes the process can be totally overwhelming. But when all else fails, GO. LOCAL. Find your local food bank, your local rape crisis center, your local free clinic, and see what you can do to volunteer.

If you’re looking to help internationally, find an organization that touts partnership with local charities – and actually gives you the names and information of those charities. Places that seek to help locally and empower local people are more likely to actually do good, over and above places that speak in imperialist terms and declare that "it's up you, White American, to help out."

And if you’ve researched a place, and still have qualms, then by all means, listen to your gut, and don’t donate.

What charities do you support? Leave them in the comments! Let’s have this be a resource page for the future!