Temporal Saints

Michaelangelo_handsTis the season for anxious engagement! Toward this end I want to highlight some charitable organizations that are absolutely worthy of your donations.

Not that writing out a check is itself anxious engagement. I’m absolutely a believer in hands-on service, and I think our method of detached financial transactions, even when assisting worthy causes, can contribute to the problem of alienation ubiquitous in our society. But this doesn’t mean that we ought not make those detached transactions, in addition to whatever other forms of engaged, community-gathering service we’re involved in. Christmas ought to, and in my experience within Mormonism it absolutely does, remind us of Christ and the deeper parts of life. Our commercial obsession is deplorable. But one thing that this commercialism can remind us of (beyond the need for repentance!) is the gross luxury that almost all of us live in. My family is, of necessity, having a sparse Christmas this year. We’ve filled it with rich (free) cultural events to help make up for that. But we, just like most of you, can also afford to donate our means—even in an “impoverished” year. And Christmas is certainly one of those times wherein it is more blessed to give than to receive.

It almost seems like a necessary preamble to a post about humanitarian organizations to talk about corruption. Pointing to corruption in the non-profit/NGO sector is almost always an excuse, a covering up of one’s own selfish heart. Corruption exists, however, and so we can all be grateful for organizations like Charity Watch and Charity Navigator (there are others as well) who help us ensure that our money goes where we want it to. (I also recommend this Nicholas Kristoff post for those who have never researched charities and are worried about giving). And while it’s always safe to just donate to the Church, one only needs to head down to Welfare Square, to see a huge wall with hundreds of names of organizations that the Church gives money to. When you donate to the Church, you’re already donating to other organizations. Even so, the Church right now wisely has its own foci in order to more effectively assist those in need, and there are a host of critical areas that the Church is not directly involved in

Let me also say that taking the time to research and find worthy organizations to give your support to is itself a rewarding experience – one that helps to mitigate the alienation. This is something you don’t get by simply donating to the Church (which I also recommend – don’t get me wrong here!). Just as going beyond learning the names in family history helps turn your heart to your ancestors, so too it’s important for your heart to do more than whip off a check to the one place you already trust.

Finally, by way of introduction, I’m highlighting only a few organizations that I like, ones that are doing top-notch work in the non-profit world, ones that have their fiscal ducks in a row and whose efforts are efficacious. In addition, let me point out that I’m recommending larger, more visible organizations here. There are innumerable small charities doing good work, especially those that specialize. Some are undoubtedly in your own community, affording you the opportunity to be more directly engaged. Seek them out. But my point here, more than recommending these specific organizations to you, is to recommend the work of charities in alleviating the tragic suffering that proliferates in our world. May we all stand as saviors on Mt. Zion in whatever ways we can – and for almost all of us, that should include the use of our Visa cards.

Partners in Health – This is my latest favorite organization. In my mind, they are simply going about their humanitarian efforts in the right way. Their vision is based on solidarity as opposed to simple charity; practically I’m not sure how much cash value this slogan has, but morally I’m convinced it’s the right approach. Likewise, their name is “partners” for a reason. They partner with hospitals, university medical and public health programs, and biosocial researchers to develop cutting edge approaches—in terms of both product and deliverance. Likewise, they partner with local sister organizations everywhere they go. Their efforts are not merely to reach out to those in desperate need of medical attention, but also to build and improve local clinics, and partner with and train local medical personnel and staff. Currently, they specialize in tuberculosis, women’s health, children’s health, HIV/AIDS, food, water, housing, and training programs. They are among the most dedicated and effective workers in Haiti—they were there before the earthquake, and unlike many of the other NGOs, their efforts haven’t slackened. They likewise work in Lesotho, Mali, Burundi, Liberia, Malawi, Rwanda, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Nepal, Russia, the US, and Kazakhstan.

Christian Foundation for Children and Aging: This is my other latest favorite; in my opinion, they represent the very best of Christian social justice (and unlike some explicitly Christian organizations, CFCA helps persons of all creeds without proselytizing; they even sponsor celebrations in other religious traditions!). I highly recommend this organization for those of you who are interested in sponsoring an individual child or youth or elderly citizen (have you ever heard of an organization that sponsors the elderly, surely one the most vulnerable segments of society?). Their sponsorship model incorporates the specific needs of the family in question (as opposed to the one-size-fits-all model), and your sponsorship of a child often results in training and other assistants for the parents. In addition to money, you’ll have the opportunity to communicate via letter (the persons sponsored will write you at least twice a year), and even meet them. CFCA has “mission awareness trips” that allow you a non-touristy opportunity to meet the person you’re sponsoring; they’re also willing to help facilitate you embarking on your own trip to see your sponsoree.

Human Rights First: Just like the name says. Without funding from any govts, they work to promote human rights, with specific emphasis on crimes against humanity, protecting hr activists, refugee protection, fighting discrimination, and issues of law and security.

The Hunger Project: I think that this organization goes about it right. Not just feeding people, but helping to build sustainable, self-reliant communities in areas of extreme need. While maintaining a specific focus to alleviate hunger and not trying to do everything, they nonetheless have a holistic understanding of the problems involved in hunger and the myriad of things that need to be done in order to actually build communities that are able to feed themselves.

Africare: They’ve got decades of experience focusing solely on Africa. They understand the development concerns, particularly in sub-saharan Africa as well as anyone, and they’re more deeply invested in the region than any other major organization I know. They’ve won awards for innovation. And they epitomize the right model of working with and through the natives of the communities they serve.

Animal Welfare Institute: One of the most effective and responsible organizations working to end animal cruelty in all its forms, from factory farming to experimentation to the destruction of animal habitat.

Conservation Fund: I include this organization – out of the many worthy environmental organization – because of how successfully they combine economic and environmental concerns. In addition to being extremely financial efficient, they lack any specific political agenda, and they are the paradigm of the “sustainability” approach.

I’m excited to hear about your own experiences in humanitarian aid, and hope you’ll share links to some of your favorite charities as well!

10 comments for “Temporal Saints

  1. Julie M. Smith
    December 18, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    We like the Heifer Project, Doctors Without Borders, and Habitat for Humanity.

  2. Aaron
    December 19, 2010 at 8:57 am

    I’m big on Doctors Without Borders…because one of their guys in a strange town when I was far away from home operated on me and did a marvelous job. If that’s selfish, so be it. But it really focused my attention on what these doctors do and I will remain a supporter.

    I also support local organizations who feed, clothe and shelter the homeless and the downtrodden.

  3. ji
    December 19, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Thanks! I think one’s local Boy Scouts of America council is also a worthy charity.

  4. Julie M. Smith
    December 19, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    ji, I just have a hard time considering BSA a charity. Esp. since their numbers in underserved communities are very low.

  5. Marjorie Conder
    December 19, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    I agree with Julie. Support something else. Boy Scout executives must be the highest paid directors of “charity” in the nation.

  6. Tim
    December 19, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    I’m a big National Geographic Society fan. And their continued existence means that a certain member of my stake presidency will continue to use recent National Geographic stories as springboards for his talks.

    I think any good charity plan includes a variety of charities. Here’s my list (and yes, I do know that some of these have had administrative issues in the past):
    For education, the PEF fund and NPR.
    Some type of poverty fund (in addition to a generous fast offering). I know the funds donated for BYU’s Hunger Banquet are well spent by people who actually have an understanding of where actual needs are, and how money can be best spent. Those students put a lot of thought into how to spend that money.
    For nature, SUWA and the Nature Conservancy.
    For science, the National Geographic Society.

    After working my way through BYU without grants, scholarships (mostly), or parental support (although my parents did donate to the BYU scholarship fund while I was attending BYU) I figure BYU students are getting enough help from my tithing dollars already. The only BYU scholarship fund I would even think of donating money to would be one aimed at international students who are not eligible for grants and can’t work their way through school due to visa restrictions.
    As far as the BSA goes–no thanks. That’s one organization I wouldn’t mind seeing die.

  7. Warren
    December 20, 2010 at 7:00 am

    Second the nomination of Partners in Health. Paul Farmer was a real pioneer in the move toward giving the exact same (expensive) treatments to HIV and TB patients in developing countries as we give to those in the U.S. By trailblazing this approach he has led to substantial investments by other partners and drug companies that has significantly reduced the cost of life-saving drugs. Great book about his effort: “Mountains Beyond Mountains” which I like to refer to as “Three Cups of Tea” except with actual results!

    I’m currently overseas working in development. I second James’ comment that corruption should not serve as an excuse not to give, just as incentive to choose wisely. I avoid endorsing any particular NGOs that I work with just to avoid an ethical problem but I do encourage everyone to look beyond our borders for worthy causes. Things are tough economically in the U.S. but really, the lack of the very basics of survival for so many in Africa is heartbreaking. As I consider the many presents under our tree, I’m forced to wonder to what degree I will be called to answer for the disparity.

  8. December 20, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    We donate to Habitat for Humanity, Doctors without Borders, SIGN (Surgical Implant Generation Network), the Humane Society, and (dare I say it here) PETA.

  9. December 20, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    I know you’ve highlighted some excellent organizations that do great work.

    I like donating to my local food pantry. The need is great and keeps growing as unemployment benefit deadlines loom. Our local grocery store has slips that you can add to your grocery bill that go directly to the pantry, and help people in my community. I also like that you can donate both in goods and money.

    I think that if you look around, you can always find good local organization that do good work that are in need of funds.

  10. M. Buxton
    December 21, 2010 at 5:36 pm


    Thanks for the suggestions and for starting the discussion. I want to second Tiffany’s recommendation of dontating to a local food bank. There are so many worthy organizations that do great work, but especially in poor economic times, organizations that provide basic needs to those in the immediate community are a top priority for our family. Along those lines, consider doubling or tripling your usual fast offering donation.

    We have also really enjoyed funding micro-finance loans on kiva.org. Once the loan is repaid, you can fund additional loans with the repaid money. It is kind of like a PEF for third-world entrepreneurs.

Comments are closed.