First, and most importantly, we can ensure that we are giving wisely There are so many causes clamoring for our money that it can be confusing trying to select a worthwhile one, but it is vital that we do. Unfortunately, there are many registered charities that spend massive amounts of the money they receive on overheads and administrative expenses so that in some cases only a small fraction of what is given actually gets to those for whom the help was intended. In other cases, overheads may be relatively low but large amounts of funding go to peripheral causes that are not the activities we want to support.
That is why the use of a good charity ranking organization such as CharityNavigator.org is imperative if we want to make what we can give have maximum effect and not be wasted or diverted. There are several charity ranking organizations, but the Charity Navigator site clearly and simply details how charities spend the money they get and shows what percentage of those funds actually go to the programs they claim to support. The site grades each charity with a score that is simple to compare with the scores of other charities. Charity Navigator also provides carefully prepared lists of different types of charities – including a great list of charities that they have ranked with 100% scores. Assessing this information does not take long and can transform our giving in terms of what it actually accomplishes.
For example, Charity Navigator gives a perfect 100% score to the organization Lifesong for Orphans that provides adoption and financial assistance for homeless children around the world – so if you gave to them, you would know your gift was helping in that particular area about as much as is humanly possible
Beyond giving carefully with intelligent checking of the organizations we want to support, we can also often make our gifts go further by giving boldly. Giving boldly does not have to mean giving more – though if we are able to do so that is good, of course. Giving boldly often simply means giving to charities that are doing truly innovative and unusual work – perhaps helping take the Gospel to unreached people groups – what we might call “Giving boldly where no one has gone before.”
That sometimes means being on the lookout for newer and likely smaller charitable organizations that may not even be rated yet, but in many cases we can still find out enough about the organization to warrant our support. A great example is the Children in Christ ministry that is carrying the Word of God to whole people groups that have not heard it by means of children's clubs and other innovative ways. Although this smaller charity is not numerically rated by Charity Navigator yet, it is possible to find plenty of information showing how effectively and cost effectively it functions (the CEO even works on a volunteer basis), so you know that contributions are truly accomplishing something.
Finally, we can often give more than we think we can because giving doesn’t just have to be about money. Perhaps we can increase the power of our gifts by sharing products we produce or by giving items we no longer need – or don’t need as many as we have. Most people are aware of the opportunities to give in these ways through the food banks, Salvation Army or other helping agencies in our own communities, but we may not be aware of some of the excellent charities that send products and lightly used items to distant places around the world where the needs may be far greater than those of our own communities.
An example of this kind of charity is Matthew 25: Ministries (another Charity Navigator 100% rated charity) which aims to help “a needy world with the things we throw away.” This innovative charity collects and passes along used items that can truly help those in need nationally and internationally – including things we may not often think of such as empty prescription pill bottles which are sent to areas where what medicines are available are often literally wrapped in leaves or paper and subsequently are spoiled through moisture and in other ways. Yet another organization, Christian Resources International, specifically focuses on sending used Bibles and religious books to areas where they are not generally available.
All these tactics require thought and perhaps a little time on our part – but they are simple things that can make a very real difference. So if you choose to give this season, think about the advantages of giving wisely, boldly, and in more ways than just cash. The effectiveness of our giving can be doubled if we do.
* You can find interviews with the CEO’s of some of the charities mentioned in this post in the "Works of Faith" section of our sister site, LivingWithFaith.org.