dreamshark: (Default)
 Start Reading Now is a small local charity that does something very simple: they give free, new books to kids in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade to read over the summer. We just made a donation. It seems like something that my fannish friends would like to support. Here's the description from their website. 

By hosting book fairs right before summer break, we help kids create their own library of 30 books built over 3 years - at the end of 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade. 

To identify the kids who are most in need of books, we work with local public schools that have 50% or more of their students on free or reduced lunch. 

During the day of the book fair, students pick out 10 brand new books and use a $50 Start Reading Now voucher to pay for them. We also provide "This Book Belongs To" stickers and a backpack to carry their new belongings - adding to the sense of ownership and value. 

Our book fairs are low-effort, low-risk and high-impact, making our program an exciting new way to drive change in our community.

dreamshark: (sharon tire)
,,, but don't want your mailbox overflowing with mailings from PP and their "sister organizations" for the next 2 years, here's how to do it.

  • Go to Network for Good.

  • Create an account. It's free and they won't bug you. However, they will use the email you give them to send you the info you will need for tax deductions.

  • Search for Planned Parenthood Federation of America

  • When you set up your donation, be sure to click the radio button that says, "None of my personal information (anonymous)".  And be sure you choose "This is a one time donation" (unless you want to give monthly).

  • Add to Giving Cart and check out with credit card or Paypal.

The charity will be charged 5% for using this service. That includes the credit card processing fee, so not such a bad deal for the charity. And considering how many useless mailings they won't be sending to your house because you have donated anonymously, I'm pretty sure they come out ahead on this.
dreamshark: (sharon tire)
I saw in the Strib that HOBT (Heart of the Beast Theater) is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy due to loss of some long-term grant money and devaluation of their theater building. If I read the article correctly, the entire staff, including the co-founder and director, has been laid off but are continuing to work as volunteers. They're trying to focus the resources they have left on 1) fulfilling ongoing commitments for community art projects in progress and 2) keeping Powderhorn May Day afloat.

I had stopped donating to them a few years ago (except for money in the bucket at May Day) because they simply would not understand that "anonymous donation" meant not pestering donors constantly for more money. But this is just too sad; I'll forgive them and give them another chance. They probably don't have enough staff left to make fund raising calls any more anyway. I just made a substantial donation online.  I hope those of you who have the means will do the same.
2013_5     2012_MayDayl_494    2011mayday_dodo15
dreamshark: (sharon tire)
Some people prefer to do good anonymously because they are the kind of saintly individuals that don't want to deflect attention to themselves while they are doing good work. Much as I admire that, I'm talking about a more selfish motivation. I want to donate some money to good causes but I don't want them calling me on the phone to beg for more or filling up my front porch with junk mail. So I have been limiting my charitable giving the last few years to recipients who will let me do it anonymously and online (since I am much too lazy to drive around at night leaving baskets of food on people's doorsteps).

More and more charities are starting to offer an "anon donor" checkbox on their websites. Some honor this request better than others. Here's a few tips on making sure your contact info stays out of the charity's database.

1) Donate via Paypal. Paypal basically exists to provide a curtain of anonymity between online buyers and sellers. A lot of charities offer that as an online donation option.

2) Donate directly from the Network for Good website. A lot of charities use a 3rd party to process online donations, and NFG is a popular choice. Here's a tip I learned by perusing the fine print of the privacy policies. Suppose your charity website has a "Powered by Network for Good" badge. If you click on the Donate button from the charity website, it is up to the charity whether they want to treat it as an anonymous donation or not. By default, NFG will send them your contact info. However, if you go directly to the NFG site, search for the charity, and initiate the donation from NFG you can control whether your contact info is passed on to the charity. You have to create an account on NFG to do this, but they keep it private and don't spam you. You will get a confirmation of the donation and a year-end summary, both of which are great for tax purposes.

The downside of using any kind of 3rd-party processor is that they charge the charity a fee (5% or so).  You might get better bang for your buck if you wrote a check and mailed it to the charity. But they still have to pay someone to open the envelopes and process the check, so there's going to be overhead either way. And if the charity then uses your contact info to send junk mail every month, that's a nonproductive use of your donation dollar. I prefer to remove the temptation for the charity to do that, since it is wasted money in my case. But to make the processing fees worthwhile I have decided to donate to fewer charities each year and make the donation a substantial one.

If anyone is interested in a recommendation, I just donated to the following two local organizations, both of which seem like extremely worthy causes. Both provide the most basic human needs (food and shelter) and both of these have a particular focus on children and teenagers. And I like the idea of helping people in my own community.
Groveland Community Food Shelf  (through Razoo)
People Serving People (through Network for Good)

What charities do you donate to, and why? I am looking for more to add to my spreadsheet.
dreamshark: (Default)
Jim's family asked that anyone wanting to make a memorial contribution in Jim's name make it to Caring Bridge.  I have done so.  It is very easy to do from the website, and they accept Paypal (always a plus).

Coincidentally, the Strib ran an article on Caring Bridge yesterday that is worth reading. Did you know that Caring Bridge was started by a woman in Minnesota?  I didn't.  It's always struck me as a very open, sincere organization and one that performs a very worthy service.  The background in this article confirms that impression.  Like so many brilliantly simple ideas, the site was founded almost by accident to fill an immediate need (in this case to help out a friend). Eventually Ms. Mehring realized that expanding her little website into a non-profit business was the perfect way to combine her tech skills with her desire to do something worthwhile, so she did.  It's operated entirely on donations - no advertising - and they don't sell your email address or spam you. 
dreamshark: (Default)
Even though I have started keeping a spreadsheet to help me through the end-of-year donation thicket, I find myself making the same awesome discoveries over and over again. For the third time, note to self: the easiest way to make truly anonymous charitable donations is through Network for Good. NFG also provides a way to search for charities by keyword and state, which led me to Groveland Emergency Food Shelf, which focuses on homeless youth, a truly tragic population. Plus searching on charity name, of course, which allowed me to donate to some of my old favorites that had hopelessly frustrating websites.

I managed to find a suitably anonymous way to donate directly to Feeding America (a foodshelf support network) as they now offer payment via Amazon. They are still shaky on the concept of anonymous donation, requiring name and address (but no phone number, which is the deal breaker for me). I gave them my name and put nonsense strings in the address fields, which should short-circuit the junk mail.

Once I rediscovered Network for Good, I made donations to the following:

I can afford a couple more. What good causes do you donate to? (or would donate to if you had the money?).
dreamshark: (Default)
We wanted to donate some money to help with the disaster in Haiti, but wanted to do something more specific than give to the Red Cross. I don't have anything against the Red Cross, but in huge diasters like this they get such a flood of donations that they literally can't direct all of it to the specific disaster - the logistics pipes just overflow. So they put the donations into their general funds. This makes some people really mad - they feel they have been deceived. I don't have such an emotional reaction (what else can they do, really?) but I'd rather donate to a smaller organization that really will cause additional money to flow into Haiti. The Red Cross is already sending them everything they can.

I decided on Partners in Health, which I heard about on this week's "Sound Medicine" podcast. Despite the unfortunate name (which sounds way too much like a health insurance company) this is a well-established charity along the lines of "Doctors Without Borders." They have had a large presence in Haiti for over 20 years, including a staff of 4000 and over 100 doctors and nurses. They were actually running more hospitals and clinics than the barely functional Haitian government. Now a lot of those facilities have been destroyed, so the organization is desperately running in emergency equipment and supplies through the Dominican Republic. Since they have been there long enough to know their way around, I figure these supplies have a better chance of getting where they are going than a lot of well-intentioned aid. The charity is highly rated, spending less than 5% of the money they take in on adminstrative expenses and fundraising.

The do not have an anonymous donation or Paypal option. However, I found that I could donate anonymously through a 3rd-party service called Network for Good. In fact, to my surprise, I found that I had made this same discovery back in 2005 and made several charitable donations that way. I've added the link to my charity spreadsheet in the hope that I'll remember it next time I want to donate to an organization that does not offer an anonymous donation button.

If you want to make your own choice of a way to donate, good old Charity Navigator is a good place to start. I wouldn't recommend making donations to phone solicitors or other dubious operators who are preying on the natural human desire to do something in the face of tragedy. There are plenty of charities with established records that are funneling money into Haiti right now.
dreamshark: (Default)
I'm sitting here at my computer making my 2009 charitable contributions before the New Year rings in. Okay, I think I'm done. Hey, not bad - almost 3 hours to spare! Last year this whole process took me days, but I saved all my research in a spreadsheet. My approach was to pick about 10-20 good causes that I wanted to support and look them up on charity rating sites to make sure they have at least an 85% efficiency rating. Then it's all up to the website to clinch the deal. Any site that takes PayPal goes right to the top of the list. PayPal is the perfect solution to the privacy problem - it provides you with an easily accessible receipt for IRS verification while hiding all your contact info from the organization you're donating to. This is still a rare option among the human services organizations I lean towards, but I keep hoping it will catch on.

If they don't provide truly anonymous donation via PayPal, I look for an "anonymous donor" checkbox. This is getting more common, thankfully.

If they don't support anonymous donation, I look for a checkbox to stop email, phone, and snail mail contact during the year and scrutinize their privacy policy to make sure they aren't sharing my info with "a few carefully selected sister organizations." This is the dealbreaker for Planned Parenthood, which I donated to exactly once before I discovered just how many "sister organizations" they had (HUNDREDS, apparently).

I'm delighted to note that this year Heart of the Beast Theater has a clearly posted privacy policy. I was less happy to see the dreaded reference to sharing with "other non-profit organizations." And apparently I missed the "Anonymous Donation" option on the donor page (drat!) so now I have to send a separate email to opt out of all those annoying mailings and emails. But at least the rules are spelled out now. So they get $500. (I've abandoned the practice of giving a few bucks to dozens of organizations in favor of picking a handful each year and giving enough money to be worth the handling expenseses).

The other organizations I donated to this year include:

  • People Serving People (provides housing and services to homeless families and teenagers - also takes PayPal).

  • Tubman Family Alliance (services for women in need)

  • Minnesota Emergency Foodshelf Network (because feeding hungry people is always worthwhile)

  • Feeding America (ditto)

  • Minnesota Public Radio

  • and a handful of my favorite podcasters.

Organizations that I would have donated to if they offered anonymous donation: Doctors Without Borders, Sharing and Caring Hands, Planned Parenthood.

Okay, now I can go party.
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