“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” –Arthur Ashe
If you’re like me, the holidays represent a time to reflect and be grateful for how fortunate we are, despite the current economic climate and everyone’s financial concerns. Things could be so much worse, and for many of our neighbors close by and far away, they most certainly are.
Most of us can scrape together something, no matter how little, to help others who need it. What is insignificant to us, can change other’s lives.
I like to focus on grassroots local efforts, where my small contributions will have greater impact, and hold one particular non-profit agency very close to my heart.
If helping those within your own community also appeals to you, but you don’t know where to turn, local churches and synagogues are a good place to start, since most have food pantries or sometimes clothing drives. They also may welcome any time you’d care to volunteer.
And your local phone book probably has designated pages listing “human services”, or something like it, where you can locate local organizations and agencies that fit your requirements.
If you’re looking beyond your own backyard to national and international charities, check out Forbes’ 10th annual edition of the 200 largest charities, ranking America’s largest nonprofits in terms of private donations.
The top 10 largest charities are:
- United Way International
- Salvation Army
- American Cancer Society
- Food for the Poor
- YMCA of the USA
- Feed the Children
- AmeriCares Foundation
- Catholic Charities USA
- Gifts in Kind International
- World Vision
If you want to dig deeper and determine legitimacy and evaluate the fiscal operations of U.S. charities, go to Charity Navigator, which compiles data from tens of thousands of non-profit financial documents to assess the financial health of over 5,000 of America’s best-known charities.
Specifically, they developed a rating system that examines two broad areas of a charity’s financial health — how responsibly it functions day to day as well as how well positioned it is to sustain its programs over time. Each charity is then awarded an overall rating, ranging from zero to four stars.
Endorsed by TIME Magazine as “One of America’s 50 Coolest Websites for 2006”, the site is a two-time Forbes award winner for “Best of the Web,” was selected by Reader’s Digest as one of the “100 Best Things about America,” and was chosen by PC World as “One of America’s Top Websites.”
Here’s a random sampling from their list of 1500+ “4 Star Charities”:
ACCION International (Boston-based) — a private organization with the mission of giving people the financial tools they need – microenterprise loans, business training and other financial services – to work their way out of poverty.
1000 Friends of Florida (Tallahassee) — promotes healthy urban and natural places by wise management of growth and change.
ActionAid International USA (Washington, DC) — works on the ground and in the halls of power to end poverty. They work in 49 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America, with over 25 million poor people.
Coastal Conservation League (Charleston, SC) — works to protect the natural environment of the South Carolina coastal plain and to enhance the quality of life of area communities by working with individuals, businesses and government to ensure balanced solutions.
The Seeing Eye (Morristown, NJ) — North America’s pioneer dog guide school founded in 1929 by Dorothy Harrison Eustis.
Outreach International (Independence, MO) — Since 1979, working with the world’s poor to help them build better lives for themselves. Their mission: help the poor help themselves.
The Shade Tree (Las Vegas, NV) — has served homeless and abused women and children, victims of domestic violence, victims of elder abuse, victims of street violence, female veterans, homeless youth and the physically disabled.
Shoes That Fit (Claremont, CA) — helps build the self-esteem of schoolchildren in need by providing them with new shoes and clothes.
Volunteers of America (Alexandria, VA) — a national, faith-based organization dedicated to helping those in need rebuild their lives and reach their full potential.