Thoughts on charity: Ideas for year-end giving?

Something I have been trying to improve in the last few years has been making a conscious effort to give in ways I've found difficult in the past.  Two very concrete ways I think I can be more charitable is in 1) attitude and 2) money.  One area in which I find it easy to be charitable, in comparison, is time, a resource I unfortunately have a tendency to squander as well.

A quote about charity from Maya Angelou's "Letter to my Daughter" that stuck with me went something like this: 

The charitable say in effect, 'I seem to have more than I need and you seem to have less than you need. I would like to share my excess with you.' Fine, if my excess is tangible, money or goods, and fine if not, for I learned that to be charitable with gestures and words can bring enormous joy and repair injured feelings.

I found this statement powerful, as it pointed out to me a clear gap between where I am, now, and where I should be, or want to be.  Part of it is just wanting to be a more decent human being but most of it is wanting to be a better Christian, and do a better job of living up to the character God expects from me as I walk in the world (though I fail miserably, most of the time).  I try not to impose my beliefs on others (ironically enough, I felt a bit oppressed the other day when talking to a couple of rabidly atheist friends), and especially through this blog, but this particular topic is impossible to separate from my faith.

I will probably explore the subject of charity through kindness in another post, but for now I want to explore the more traditional or popular notion of charity, that being charitable with my money.  Firstly, I don't think it is only up to the rich to be charitable. Back in my Hollywood days when I was making pennies, I found it very difficult to part with my money because it truly was hard-earned, and scarce besides.  I am not proud of it, because I do think it's important to give, even if it is a little, especially to cultivate a 'habit' of giving.  When I complained to a friend several years ago about how difficult it was to tithe on such a low income, she looked at me squarely and asked, "won't it be more difficult when you are making more money and 10% means $8,000 instead of $2500?"

I don't think I've even gotten to the point where I am giving 10%, but looking back, it probably is a bit easier now that I'm living a little more comfortably.  At any rate, the end of the year is a good chance for me to look back and "true up."  

And so, I put this question to you wise folks: if you were inclined to give, where would you give it? The easiest answer for me is my old church in Mountain View, which I believe is doing some truly good and amazing work, from workshops that help people managing their debt to support groups for women with a relative who is incarcerated.  

But this year I'd like to expand the possible list of recipients, not only for my personal giving but for anyone who's reading this, who might be interested in giving as well.  I also prefer to focus on organizations that aren't traditionally popular among the wealthy or otherwise "chic."  I'm especially interested in learning more about organizations that focus on seniors and the elderly, as they seem to comprise a relatively ignored population (sure not as popular as babies, women and various specific diseases).  

Here's a list of organizations I find compelling, but I'd love to hear of some other worthy organizations you might have come across:
  • Asylum Access (helps those oppressed by political turmoil navigate the legal systems in their country of refuge)
  • Doctors Without Borders and Reporters Without Borders
  • WWF (that would be World Wildlife Fund, not Worldwide Wrestling Federation)
  • The Mango Tree
  • Heifer International
  • American Red Cross
  • Union of Concerned Scientists
  • World Vision
Update: Wow thanks everyone for all the additional suggestions!  Here are some more ideas from various people:
  • CityTeam Ministries (homeless outreach in SF and other major cities)
  • Glide Memorial Methodist Church (homeless outreach in SF) - interesting I'd never heard of it before.
  • SEED schools
  • Polaris Project
  • Arlington Free Clinic
  • Childrens Hunger Fund
  • Education Pioneers
  • Dress for Success
  • e3 Partners
  • A Single Drop
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • William J. Clinton Foundation
  • Amnesty International
  • Just a Drop
  • Room to Read
  • Taproot Foundation
20 responses
My wife and I have each sponsored a child via #Worldvision. It's a top run organization and we enjoy writing our sponsored kids!
Good to know, Thomas!  Thanks for the rec.
My husband gives to and he finds it very fulfilling. I chemo caps for The Hat Box Foundation and really enjoy doing so. (
Have you heard of
Noticed all of your charities were international...what about something local? I'm a big supporter of the SF Food Bank. Many I know support Glide.
@Linda Thanks for the input on Kiva! I wasn't sure if they were more about marketing than doing good, so this is good info.
@Huey Yep - I think I'm a couple degrees of separation from the guys at, and I checked out their website recently, but all the 'mistakes' they posted on the frontpage actually made me uncomfortable with taking their advice 100%
@Vivian yeah I guess I'm more inclined to support international orgs but the ARC and a couple others are domestic. I'll definitely keep the SF food bank in mind!
What I've learned about tithing and giving in my little corner of the world:

1) my tithe goes to God alone (my church or the place we get our spiritual feeding,) and it's 10% of everything I make. It's always very hard to find the money to tithe. For us, it took a mindset change that says, this is God's and I don't have any choice about where I spend it. It's no different than owing to the mortgage or government or utilities, except it gets paid before they do. Once my wife and I made that change in our thinking and started tithing, we have never gone without and God has prospered us. BTW, the tithe is not secret; give it openly.

2) offerings and alms (gifts) are after and above a tithe. God says when we give to the poor, "we lend to God." Isn't it a wonderful thing that God "owes" us and we can be sure He will repay it many times over! Our offerings and alms are done in secret, so that we don't take any pride in them, just do them because our hearts are full of love and joy.

3) there are so many worthy organizations and needs, but usually God puts a person in need in our path, and that's our opportunity to give. That person is as good a cause as any other, and probably just what God intends from us.

An interesting thought about our kindness is that God expects it from us always. We owe it to Him in all our dealings with others, so that they can see what a true Christian is, instead of the stereotypical "holier-than-thou" image of a Christian. In that regard, it isn't charity. He also tells us that words (of kindness) without actual deeds "are dead."

I admire your courage for bringing up this subject, and your honesty. Don't we all struggle with this! In fact, there are so many needs that we could give everything we have and never make a dent.

But, we can make a real difference in the lives of those God puts near us, and that makes a very big impact because it glorifies Him to them in a very practical way!

Thanks again for your writings!

Great post Stephanie. This is a hard topic for me too. I give to the Childrens Hunger Fund. I do feel better when I give. I love the fact that this charity helps kids all over the world even here in the USA.
Didn't mean to make you feel oppressed Steph -- I just get very tired of people continually voicing surprise that I don't believe in a God; to me it comes off as condescending.

Giving is always a worthy cause and something I will always appreciate about churches (or other organizations) which make that a focus of their existence.

Some more, off the top of my head: Education Pioneers, Dress for Success, e3 Partners, Charity: Water, A Single Drop, UNICEF, Habitat for Humanity, William J. Clinton Foundation, Amnesty International is good for gauging which non-profits are run efficiently, on the books at least

@Kair-bear Ooh thanks for the additions!  I'll add to the list =)
I'll second City Team and add any charity that has to do with providing water (i.e. A Single Drop or Just A Drop).
Also, Room to Read:
Former Northwestern MBA and Microsoft executive John Wood left the corporate world to bring books to children throughout the world who have the least access to education and are most likely to be illiterate (he wrote an inspirational book: Leaving Microsoft to Change the World).
The organization finds local talent to write and illustrate children's books in the local language and then partners with publishers, who otherwise have no incentive to go into these unprofitable markets, to publish the books. Room to Read also builds or repurposes old buildings for libraries and schools, and provides an education for girls who, in many cultures, would not receive an education.

Taproot Foundation:
Encourages and enables talented professionals and businesses to do pro bono work. Inspirational founder and social entrepreneur Aaron Hurst has received many honors and awards.

The Milo Foundation ( is a wonderful non-profit no-kill animal shelter based in Northern California. It's where we adopted our dogs, and I highly recommend checking them out.
Now would be a great time to make a donation to a Haitian Earthquake relief fund. I'm partial to World Vision but here's your chance Steph!
Good reminder - thanks Thomas!
@Thomas_Ott I just chose Doctors Without Borders, but I'll keep World Vision in mind too - thanks again!
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