So here are some charities that could use a little help this year
- Janine Quarles, BettyConfidential.comInterested in donating some money to a charity during the holidays? This year is a good time to do it. With the economic crisis, and millions of families focused, understandably, on survival, contributions to charitable organizations have dropped.
Over the years, Americans have been extremely generous: The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which keeps track of donation statistics, says that in 2008, donations across the nation totaled $307 billion, with 75 percent of that coming from individuals. But because of the economic downturn, the publication expects giving for the whole of 2009 to drop by 9 percent, leaving foundations and nonprofit organizations to cut back on their services.
And it's safe to assume that many of those who do give may be donating less while hoping their money will do the most possible good. To make their charitable dollars stretch as far as possible, donors often rely on highly-rated organizations that they trust, like the United Way (unitedway.org), which funds everything from local education programs to worldwide disaster relief, and the CDC Foundation (cdcfoundation.org), a private group that works with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on public-health issues like the swine-flu outbreak.
If you'd like to give to a less well known organization, or a specific cause, but aren't sure how your donation will be used, websites like charitynavigator.org and charitywatch.org are a good place to start. The ratings system (from 0 stars to 4 stars) used by Charity Navigator makes it easy to figure out which organizations spend the most on programs and the least on services. You can also look for charities serving a cause you're interested in, or for a group that focuses on the area where you live.
Below, some highly-rated charities you might not have heard of. Please keep in mind that we're listing these organizations as examples only, and that your search may lead you to other groups:
Health. The National Organization for Rare Disorders, or NORD, (rarediseases.org) is a group of health organizations that raises money for research into rare diseases, which might not receive much funding.
Education. Computers for Youth (cfy.org) has a nationwide program to teach computer literacy to low-income school children by making more resources available in their homes.
Environment. Living Lands and Waters (livinglandsandwaters.org) works toward a cleaner environment in the nation's major rivers by sponsoring community cleanups, educational workshop and Adopt-A-River-Mile programs.
Animals. Puppies Behind Bars (puppiesbehindbars.com), trains prison inmates to raise puppies to be service dogs for disabled people, including wounded veterans of Iran and Afghanistan, and explosive-sniffing dogs for law enforcement.
International Water for People (waterforpeople.org) works with a variety of groups, including Rotary International and the Peace Corps, to bring clean, safe drinking water to developing countries.
These organizations, and thousands more, give us all the chance to see even a small donation help others. And amid all our economic woes, that's the biggest gift you can give them-and yourself.
Janine Quarles is a community organizer for the Union of Minority Neighborhoods in Boston, and a graduate of Bennett College for Women, with a BA in mass communications. She is currently enrolled in UMASS Boston's Women in Politics and Public Policy graduate certificate program.
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