A Heart for Giving: Finding the Right Charity
December 3rd, 2013 by Hannah Doyle

Stuffed animals are piled on the cement next to stacks of books, a garment rack, wrapping paper and other novelties. A snowman dish set and Santa figurine sit on a table behind red and green Mylar balloons shrunken by the August heat.

LeAnn Kinnee, above, spent a week in Uganda handing out shoeboxes at churches, schools and orphanages. Photo courtesy of LeAnn Kinnee

LeAnn Kinnee, above, spent a week in Uganda handing out shoeboxes at churches, schools and orphanages.
Photo courtesy of LeAnn Kinnee

LeAnn Kinnee’s curious scene is odd enough to tantalize the seasoned garage sale shopper, but the unpriced items reveal something more is behind the hodgepodge of items overtaking her driveway.

Every year, LeAnn hosts the sale to support Operation Christmas Child, a charity of Samaritan’s Purse. The charity takes shoeboxes filled with goods such as washcloths, pencils and soap, and delivers them to children in developing countries.

“A lot of our friends and family give us items,” LeAnn says. “Money raised goes toward booklets, the big airplanes, the ships, the donkeys, whatever it takes to get the boxes from point A to point B.”

LeAnn and her husband, Jim, have served between those two points since 1995. Their home in Sherwood, Oregon, has served as a relay center, collecting boxes from their community and surrounding areas. They also have inspected shoeboxes before shipment in the regional processing centers.

Until last May, they had done everything but hand a shoebox to a child. LeAnn and Jim went to Uganda to distribute boxes to churches, orphanages and schools. She saw children smile as they received pencils, soap and toys.

“I had to get rid of my Western thinking and just be OK with this is how they live and they love it,” she says. “And I don’t see anyone whining like our people do here.”

LeAnn says Ugandan children cannot go to school unless they have supplies such as pencil and paper, and soap elevates their social status because it gives them the gift of cleanliness.

“This project is about teaching some kid about Jesus through a shoebox and giving them the hope that there’s someone 9,000 miles away that loves them,” LeAnn says. “You can’t measure hope, you can’t measure love, but it’s there.”

Samaritan’s Purse is one of thousands of charities through which people can give, and the number seems to double during the holidays. How do you choose the charity that is right for you?

Navigating the maze of options is daunting and discerning is difficult, but follow this guide to keep it simple without becoming Scrooge.

Donation Determinants

Assess your preferences to narrow your charities from nationwide to nearby countryside.

What do you care about? Is someone close to you sick or struggling with a disease? Does a particular cause speak to you?

Where there is an interest, there is a need. Besides the charities involving sickness, children or animals, charities are based around cooking, painting, building and even motorcycles.

Some ask for monetary donations, others ask for both money and time.

Charities can be entirely local or entirely global. Some may be global with local offices. It all depends how you want to give and make a difference.
Before searching online, talk to friends, family or people you know who are involved in a charity. That can offer built-in legitimacy and a peek inside the workings of the charity before opening your wallet or day planner.

Marks of Merit

Unfortunately, the likelihood of knowing someone who is involved in every charity you are interested in is slim. Fortunately, once you have specific charities in mind, a number of websites do most of the legwork for you.

 

Samaritan’s Purse provides needed items to those who otherwise might not receive them through Operation Christmas Child. A child’s shoebox can contain anything from sunglasses to soap.  Photo courtesy of Tom Dedricks

Samaritan’s Purse provides needed items to those who otherwise might not receive them through Operation Christmas Child. A child’s shoebox can contain anything from sunglasses to soap.
Photo courtesy of Tom Dedricks

CharityWatch.org, CharityNavigator.org and Givewell.org are useful tools. Each site breaks down charities by how they use donations and run their programs.

All of the websites rate and rank the charities, but each site has different charities scoring the highest. That is because each site has different criteria and different values assigned to the criteria.

GiveWell considers skills such as the strength of impact on people’s lives and the amount of room a charity has for additional funding, while CharityNavigator.org bases its ratings on financial health and reporting results.

However, all well-operated charities share common traits.

Without spending hours reading the fine print of charity websites, you can gauge if a charity is worth investing your time and money by being aware of the following characteristics:

Transparency. The more open and accessible a charity is about its operations, the better. You should be able to access as much data as needed to understand where your donations are going and get a sense of their impact. Most charities make accessible everything from their annual report to their CEO’s salary.

Accountability. Having charity information readily available is important, but so are the explanations for the actions they take. You should be able to ask questions about what the charity is doing to progress toward its goal and why.

Low overhead. Low administration costs usually mean more money is spent on the charity’s mission. The American Institute of Philanthropy says charities should use at least 60 percent of their funds toward their program.

Just because the charity is frugal on its administration expenses does not mean it is effective in carrying out the cause it supports. Look at all the factors holistically to evaluate the quality of the charity.

You can find this information online using the aforementioned websites or by calling the charity directly.

The Way to Will

One or multiple charities may meet your standards. Once you land on where you want to give, you have to establish how.

Consider the best way to give money based on the charity. If it is a project-based cause, a one-time donation may be best. If the cause is ongoing, you either can donate all at once or you may want to setup an account with the charity and have a specific amount regularly deducted from your bank account.

Find the sweet spot between your preferences and the charity.

Money is a welcomed gift in obvious ways, but the gift of time is equally as valuable. Virtually no charity will turn down volunteers who offer hands and feet toward their efforts.

The work involved in running a charity is endless. Help is needed in almost every area. Many need help with delivery, assembly, maintenance or just taking notes.

If you are a craftsman, try repairing broken rocking chairs or building a table. If you like to paint or craft, help charities that need artwork and design aid.

Tap into your specific talents. LeAnn used skills learned from volunteering at church to interact with Ugandan children.

“I want to make sure that I’m not only teaching Sunday school in the states, but that I can also impact a child 9,000 miles from here and that they get to know Jesus,” LeAnn says. “That’s what I strive for.”

No matter how you give—whether dropping a coin in the Salvation Army red kettle, donating online or by packing up a shoebox—a charitable contribution will last longer than any gift placed under the Christmas tree.

“I’m here to just give a little bit of sunshine in their life and know that I’m making a memory instead of trying to change the world,” LeAnn says.