I think most of us agree that the world could be a better place. Of course, it would be a formidable challenge to find any two people on this planet who agree completely on how making the world a better place should be done, and whose responsibility it is to work on that.
Whatever your values, we believe that it is an important spiritual, emotional, and even financial practice to give. Recently, I've heard some wonderful ideas for encouraging family participation in giving: adopting a work project as a part of each child's birthday celebration, encouraging (or mandating!) friends to participate in work projects, or requiring that nieces/nephews/grandchildren "earn" holiday and birthday gifts through logging volunteer hours. For those unaccustomed to volunteerism as a part of family life, these practices might seem cruel or backwards. Let me suggest, however, that encouraging these acts in children and teenagers is in fact giving them the gifts of perspective, empathy, kindness, and a work ethic that may not be earned in a paying job. In addition to logging volunteer hours, we know families who encourage donations or tithing from a child's allowance income. We feel that this empowers a child to feel like an active participant in his or her community.
So, how does one choose a charity or other worthwhile cause for contributing one's time and energy? Allow us to suggest these guidelines:
- Start locally. If you know of an organization that is active in your local community, school, or house of worship, start asking questions about what exactly the group does, and how you might contribute.
- Take some time to evaluate what concerns you most. Just as there is no shortage of problems in the world, there is also no shortage of organizations that need money and volunteer hours to help alleviate those problems. If world hunger and poverty concern you, check out http://www.heifer.org/. If you have a friend or family member living with cancer, diabetes, or Alzheimer's Disease, there are organizations that are raising research money to prevent and cure these diseases.
- Check out Charity Navigator and The American Institute of Philanthrophy. These websites offer search tools and ratings to investigate, among other criteria, the percentage of the charity's budget is used for operating expenses. You may wish to investigate whether a charity is linked to any particular political or ideological group. You will likely not find an organization that meshes with your values completely, but you may find your own personal red flags as you do your research.
- Don't feel limited by your current financial situation. You may be surprised at the ways you can contribute in a meaningful way as a volunteer, using your time and your unique skills.
- Learn how to vote with your wallet. There are brands and companies that donate a significant amount of their profits to charity. You may wish to shop for bananas, coffee, and chocolate that are traded fairly.
- Beware of telemarketing charity solicitations. While many of these solicitations are legitimate, the safest bet is to ask the organization to send you printed material in the mail so that you can review their practices. If the telemarketer refuses to mail materials to you, proceed with caution.