In the spirit of the Holiday Season, I want to offer a few unique ideas that may be useful as you plan any year end charitable giving.
www.GoodShop.com is an easy to use shopping site that lets you shop at your favorite online stores while allocating a small portion of your spending to the charity or school of your choice.
There is a great selection of stores - over 700 - and the process is easy. Just select your charity, click through to the retailer's site and shop. GoodShop takes care of the donation.
Not every charity participates, but if you have holiday shopping to do online, this is a great way to put your efforts to good work. It's a win-win for everyone.
www.Kiva.org is dedicated to fighting world poverty through micro-finance - the process of lending money to entrepreneurs in the developing world. Kiva's motto is "make a loan, change a life."
Kiva is unique in that they directly connect the lender (you) with the borrower. You can read about the borrower, their plans for the money, and receive updates on the loan as it gets paid back. The average loan is less than $500, and 97% get paid back in full. The best part is that once you've been paid back you can re-loan the money to someone else.
Kiva offers gift certificates that make great holiday gifts and are a great way to involve your children in philanthropy and offer them a broader perspective on the world.
www.heifer.org is another non-profit dedicated to changing lives in developing countries. Working in areas of extreme poverty, they provide families with livestock in an effort to promote sustainable living conditions. Simple gifts - a cow, a few chickens, a goat - can change the dynamic in a family forever. Children who once worked the land can go to school for the first time.
Heifer's website includes an online catalog of animals that you can "buy" for a family in need. A cow costs $500 but a flock of chicks can be had for as little as $10. This is another fun way to involve children in giving, and honorariums make great gifts for relatives who may challenge your gift-giving skills.
www.GuideStar.org is a site you may find useful for more traditional giving. GuideStar is a comprehensive database of all U.S. non-profit organizations. Free registration is required, and once online, you can use the site to research schools, churches, and charities. There is free access to historical tax returns, which can give you insight into an organization's operating budget and balance sheet. More comprehensive data is available through a paid subscription.
During this time of financial uncertainty, it is easy to lose sight of how blessed we are. I hope you find these ideas useful and inspiring as you contemplate your own giving through the end of the year.