Over the past week, there has been controversy related to the nonprofit Invisible Children and the war criminal Joseph Kony. In short, questions have been raised about Invisible Children’s simplifying the narrative surrounding Kony and their goals in “stopping him.”
How can Christians be sure they’re affecting positive change in the world through their charitable giving? By doing their homework. I’ve compiled a list of charities that I have worked with in the past and have found to be solid choices for donating. As always, though, it ultimately comes down to having your own vetting process. Real change requires real work.
What it is: Kiva gives microfinance loans to small business owners in the developing world. You give Kiva $25 (or whatever) to make a loan to a small business. This business person uses the loan to get their business going, and then pays it back to Kiva. You then have the option of reinvesting or withdrawing your principal loan.
Why it’s good: One goal of charity that moves from a developed country to a developing one needs to be to avoid imperialism and promote empowerment of local businesses and economies. North Americans are not always good at doing this. We tend to think - conscious or not - that we will come in and just fix everything. But that’s not sustainable. What Kiva does is look where the money is and uses wealth to invest in local businesses on a long-term, sustainable basis. It doesn’t condescend, it doesn’t give handouts (clients are required to pay back the loan) and it empowers the people.
What it is: The Special Olympics is an international organization aimed at helping disabled people of all stripes live their lives well. They run sports leagues of all kinds to give the disabled a community and a quality of life that is better for them.
Why it’s good: My family has been involved in Special Olympics for almost 30 years because my oldest brother - MJ - has Down Syndrome. This charity is very personal to me and I’ve seen the good effects it has. MJ is involved year-round, from basketball to bowling to softball. For him, it has as high of stakes as the real Olympics and it’s something that helps him feel accepted and normal. The Special Olympics community is supportive and real, and well worth your time and effort.
What it is: Blood:Water sees two major issues facing many Africans right now: the AIDS epidemic and lack of clean water. They partner with local charities to find the best ways to solve the issue in that area. They help build wells and provide AIDS testing and medical care.
Why it’s good: Partnership. I’ve been supporting Blood:Water off and on for three years now, solely because of their partnership model. When you give them money, you’re not donating to a huge American organization that’s there to “solve problems,” but to a place that, like Kiva, helps provide resources and funding so that local charities can do their work.
What it is: OxFam International is headquartered in London and has outlets in most majored developed countries. It’s hard to sum up what OxFam as a whole does because it changes depending on country and location. The overall stated goal is to work to find solutions to extreme poverty and related injustices all over the world. They do this by empowering local people with regards to their rights, their private businesses and their lives.
Why it’s good: I love that OxFam not only takes an empowerment approach in terms of local businesses, but also in terms of rights. This means that they emphasize the unique dignity of each and every person they help, which is something I look for in any charity I support.
This is, of course, merely a small sampling. It can be very hard to find one that works for you and sometimes the process can be totally overwhelming. But when all else fails, go local. Find your local food bank, your local rape crisis center, your local free clinic and see what you can do to volunteer and help.
What Do You Think?
- What do you make of Invisible Children in the wake of the Kony debate?
- How do you decide what charities to support?
- What charities have you personally vetted?