Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Well, my son has a decision to make. It is time for him to open up the “Donate” section of his Money Savvy Pig and make his first real charitable contribution. For someone his age, there’s a moderately significant amount of money in there, probably around $20. Whenever he actually manages to earn his allowance, at least $1 (usually 25-33% of what he gets, as he earns it on a sliding scale) has to be put aside for giving.

Now, as we reach the end of the year, it’s time for this money to go. There are plenty of options, and I’ve tried to narrow it down to a few that would appeal to a kid. The first in my mind is Child’s Play, the charity established by the guys from Penny Arcade. It helps provide toys and entertainment for children’s hospitals around the world. This thing keeps growing every year, and I think my son would be glad to help give sick kids with something to play with. In addition, Child’s Play is very efficient about translating donations to goods; in fact, thanks to their rather unique setup, I can’t think of many that get more bang for their buck.

My wife suggested letting him bundle up the money and go put it in a Salvation Army bucket. I have to say that I liked the suggestion; I hadn’t even considered it as an option. It’s something he’s done before, and putting a lot of money in there, piece by piece, will have a visceral impact. The ringer is likely to enjoy it (I know I would’ve back when I volunteered for it). I’m generally not enthused by religious charities; it’s part of the reason I’m not really considering Worldvision, and am suspicious of Heifer International until I find out more. While both those groups do good, essential work, I’m wary of any group that mixes proselytizing with charitable endeavor. Again, the Salvation Army has a decent record there; while still a religious sect (odd how most people don’t realize the Salvation Army is an actual church), the focus has long since shifted toward the charitable efforts. I’ve got a soft spot for the Salvation Army. I’ve done work for them before, and a Salvation Army officer married my parents, because the person originally scheduled to preside over their wedding could not make it. So, I’m really considering this.

I originally conceived of doing this whole giving thing through one of the “catalog charities”. I think it’s just cool to consider sitting down with a kid and scrolling through all the things your money could buy for someone in need. It let’s them know exactly where the money is going, which has a stronger impact. Will it be vaccines, a working animal, or a water purifier? Those questions are things that kids can learn about and decide to answer on their own. That said, I’m somewhat less enthused after doing my own research. Most of the big guns in the “catalog” game mix the giving with religious proselytizing; in particular, World Vision bugs me. Heifer International was founded as a religious organization, but unlike World Vision, they don’t seem to emphasize it anymore. However, I have other complaints about Heifer (and these apply to most of the catalog charities). When you read the fine print, what it says is, “We’re actually going to spend your money wherever we need it, regardless of what you said you wanted us to use it for.” That whole “choose what you are giving toward” riff is just the hook to get the money. That is bloody disappointing, and I don’t want to get a kid excited about giving to something they really aren’t giving to. Now, I can understand it, to an extent. You don’t want to be overloaded with 10,000 cute little lambs when what you really need is a well pump. I can especially see it from back in the day when it was an actual printed catalog that people were choosing from. These days, I think the web allows you to keep a decent tally and adjust the elements available for giving. Take a little off the top for administrative costs, and you can probably run it as advertised (Although, as I check my facts before I go on, it seems that Heifer has altered this somewhat, and only redistributes funds after the need you have designated in general has been met. That puts them back in the running, possibly the lead.). The only one of these groups that I’m still really considering is Oxfam. It’s a secular charity, and while it still distributes your money as it sees fit, Oxfam is at least up front about it. Instead of burying it deep in the legalese, Oxfam puts it right out there that your “purchase” is a symbolic representation. Although, politically, Oxfam has been getting a little extreme. It fits their mission, I guess, but I frankly don't want my money going toward a protests in front of the G8 summit. If anyone else knows of a similar charity that actually uses the money exactly how you tell it to, I’d be glad to hear about it.

Those are really the big options. I’m still hunting around, but I think those are the ones I’ll let him choose from. We’ll see how it goes. Hopefully, it’ll take on it’s own appeal, and he’ll put more than he’s required to into his bank over the next year. Maybe it'll also spur me on. I don't give enough, myself.

1 comment:

Border Jumpers said...

Just as an FYI wanted to flag you to three posts that resulted from our field visits with Heifer International in Rwanda. They are doing terrific work on the ground...

Here are the write-ups for the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet []:

Healing with livestock in Rwanda

Teacher Turned Farmer…Turned Teacher

Got Biogas?

We are travel blogging from Africa at a site called Border Jumpers which can be viewed at
Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack