Tuesday, December 12, 2006

How to Choose a Family Charity

Lately, I've been researching volunteering opportunities. The volume of organizations and needs has been a bit overwhelmed. I want to donate to everything - but honestly, even Bill Gates wouldn't have enough cash!

The first problem I encountered was narrowing my choice to a particular area. Did we want to work with illiteracy? Or would we rather help orphans? Animals would be a great option for all of us, but what about world hunger? Refugees would be good - we could expose little one to other cultures, which would help us achieve several goals at once.

Here's what I figured out:
1. I need to get over myself. I'm not going to fix any of these problems single-handedly, even with my whole family working on them. While we do need to make a choice of where to put our time, it's not a life or death decision.
2. I realized you really can start anywhere. So, pick an organization or cause that appeals to you and works for your family.

For instance, my husband suggested we work on poverty. I like women and family issues. It turns out that one of the identifiable keys to reducing poverty anywhere is to economically empower women.

To do that, we could help at a local charity dedicated to helping single mothers get a college degree or contribute to any number of international charities dedicated to helping women, families or building communities. By helping women, we can help children, reduce poverty, which can reduce hunger and homelessness, and build communities. Where communities thrive, you'll also see reduced crime, an improved the environment and so on.

We may not solve any one problem or even see this chain reaction. But life is connected and while your actions may not cause immediate and obvious results, helping at any point in the chain will impact all points along it.

When you're picking projects for your family, the very dynamics of your family members should help you narrow your choices. In my family, our Little One is three. She is not going to help tutor nor is she going to ring bells for the Salvation Army while standing in the rain. I'm not going to be comfortable letting her run free in a soup kitchen while I work the line. And my husband isn't going to be able to participate in a Meals on Wheels delivery route because he works.

So, right away, our personalities and age limits our family volunteering opportunities.

Here's a list of further tips, culled from Family Fun and The Busy Family's Guide to Volunteering:

  • Make a list of each family member's strengths and skills. Find an organization that can put those abilities to work.
  • Make this a family decision. Give your children input - they may surprise you.
  • Some organizations may be hesitant to take families. Call and discuss ways your family could volunteer together.
  • Don't give up. It's tempting after one bad experience to decide your children aren't ready or this isn't for your family. Instead, try something else.
  • Don't be a martyr. Find ways to give that will be fun for everyone!

If you really can't decide, The Busy Family's Guide to Volunteering suggests you use a calendar approach. Focus on civil rights in January, send care packages for the troops in July, support farmers or sustainable living in Spring, donate supplies to women's shelters during April, which is Women's History Month, and give school supplies to an orphanage in August.

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Blogger Dave Pattesrson said...

When you're thinking about picking a family charity, I hope you'll consider Heifer International (www.heifer.org). We're working to end hunger and poverty in the world by helping people help themselves.

Also we have a neat new tool that lets bloggers like you help in the effort. Just go to www.heifer.org/onlinecommunityfundraising

Hope this helps the search.

By the way, I'm director of new media at Heifer.

9:03 AM  

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