Q & R: Charitable giving

Here’s the Q:

You’ve made references in some of your writings about charitable giving. I really want to make an effort to be generous with my money. I have a heart particularly for the poor since I grew up in poverty. It’s a really overwhelming topic and I just don’t know where to start and who to trust. I’m currently not at a place in my life where I’m ready to return to the church so traditional “tithing” isn’t really an option and I’m not sure that I would trust a church to put my dollars towards serving itself before serving the poor.

Heres’ the R:
Thanks for this important question. Poverty is a complex reality, as you know, and often, when people sincerely try to make things better, their results are hard to measure. Sometimes, they may even make things worse. (I wrote about this in some detail in my book Everything Must Change.) Here are several categories of organizations that do great work in constructive ways:
1. Relief and Development: Organizations like World Vision and Unbound provide direct help to people in poverty through sponsorship – providing nutrition, education, and health care, and they help communities build capacity for prosperity.
2. Education organizations focus on helping kids develop skills that will bring them out of poverty. The Sold Project, started by my friend Rachel Goble, is a great example.
3. Community Development organizations focus on helping people in local neighborhoods, villages, slums, etc., set goals and achieve holistic results for themselves. I have good friends who lead organizations in this category – like Communities of Hope, African Road, and Urban Transformation.
4. Social Justice organizations focus on changing unjust policies and laws that put people into poverty. Three of my favorites are Coalition of Immokalee Workers (right here in the US), Sabeel, and Association for More Just Society.
5. Ethical businesses … for-profit companies play an important role in helping people out of poverty – especially when they have values beyond “the single bottom line” of profit. You can learn more about ethical business – with a triple bottom line of social, environmental, and economic benefit – here. By investing in businesses like these, you help poor people and can get a return on your investment.
6. Messaging and mobilizing organizations help people understand poverty and get involved in the biblical call to social justice. Sojourners, Network of Spiritual Progressives, and Auburn Media are great organizations in this category. I hope the Cana Initiative will also make significant contributions in this regard. You might even consider many writers and journalists as members of this category.
7. Exposure/relationship-building organizations help people visit underserved communities and build relationships with people who live in poverty. As my friend Shane Claiborne says, our problem often is not that we don’t care about poor people, but we don’t know any poor people personally. Groups like Camino Connection and Global Immersion Project do wonderful work in this way.
I’m sure there are other categories too, and so many fantastic organizations doing wonderful work … I hope readers will feel free to add their recommendations/comments over on my Facebook page.