I am so encouraged every year to hear about more and more people choosing to give to charities, rather than to line the base of their tree with gifts. This is a beautiful thing and one of the best ways we can truly commemorate what Christmas is all about.
I want to wrap up the sustainable Christmas series with a list of charities you should totally check out this season, but first I want to address some common concerns and thoughts people tend to have about chartable giving and volunteering around the holidays.
We tend to think: I need to know exactly what this charity is doing. I don’t want my money to go to waste or to pay some director a huge salary.
Yes. Valid. Do your research. The list below is to help you in that. But I want you to understand a few things as well
The money is not yours.
Do you remember the parable of the talents*? The Master entrusts to three servants a sum of money – five talents to one, two to another and one talent to the third. The Master left for a journey and when he returned asked for a report from the servants. The first two invested and gained interest on their money, returning double what was entrusted to their Master. The third hid their talent, gained nothing and actually had their sum of money taken and given to the first servant.
Our money is not ours to keep or lay claim to. You may have earned it, but it belongs to God. When our reason for not giving is because we are afraid of how someone else will manage the money, it is likely that we are worshipping the money itself rather than the God who trusts us to be good stewards of it.
You are responsible to give. God is responsible to judge and restore the world. Period.
People deserve to earn a fair wage.
I’ve worked in nonprofits and churches for almost a decade now. I can tell you that most people in these environments work very, very hard. They don’t get to leave their work at work. It goes with them everywhere. Some are highly educated and skilled and could be making hundreds of thousands of dollars in the for-profit sector. But they’re not, because they believe in something bigger than themselves. There are those few who abuse the system – yes. But please don’t rule out an organization based solely on their staffing expenses. Organizations like International Justice Mission are doing amazing things in this world. Their staffing costs are high, but that is because they are hiring excellent lawyers to fight human trafficking, send traffickers to jail and free slaves all over the world. They are hiring and empowering local law enforcement in the countries they work in overseas. Their offices are based in Washington, D.C. so that they can act and advocate politically for the victims of trafficking, but living in D.C. is expensive. They are doing excellent, excellent work that yields results. But it costs money. Staffing costs alone should not be a deal breaker for giving to an organization.
We can also think: It’s the holidays! No one deserves to be alone or hungry or cold!
Needs exist other than at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
A lot of people think about “giving back” around the holidays. They want to go serve Thanksgiving dinner at a shelter, they drop some coins in the red kettle outside the grocery store, they bring gifts to children whose parents are incarcerated.
But what about the rest of the year?
The homeless are still hungry and lonely in March. Their are still people in need when you’re on spring break. The child whom you bought gifts for will likely be missing their incarcerated parent next summer, wishing they were in the stands at their baseball game.
Giving and volunteering during the holidays is not a bad thing, but please don’t make it the only time of year that you do these things! Many nonprofits struggle financially during the summer months. Everyone is on vacation, having fun, forgetting about the problems of this world and the poor who bear the brunt of them. Consider setting aside time to celebrate “Christmas in July” by giving or volunteering this summer as well.
Your mailbox may be crammed with catalogues full of sheep and goats and chickens to send to families all over the world. Those baby ducks are so CUTE!
Don’t forget to look to your own neighborhood/town/city.
World Vision, Compassion, IJM, etc. all send out fancy, glossy catalogues with smiling children and fuzzy sheep you can send them to help on their family farm in Botswana. There is nothing wrong with this. These are good things to support and do. But your local charities likely don’t have the budget for catalogues or flashy advertising. Sheep and ducks may look cute on catalogue pages, but giving a local shelter a supply of socks and underwear is just as needed. Partnering with a classroom at a school in an under resourced neighborhood to make sure they’re stocked with pencils and paper and crayons is a good idea too. Or if you live in an area where the homeless are often panhandling on the side of the road or on sidewalks, put together a bag to keep in your car with nonperishables, a can opener, granola bars, toothbrush, and deodorant. Or offer to buy them lunch or coffee and actually talk to them for a half an hour. There are so many needs around the world, sometimes we forget to look in our own backyard.
With those things in mind, these are some charities and causes I really love and think you should know about:
International Justice Mission
I mentioned them above, but it bears repeating. IJM is doing incredible things to fight human trafficking, restore victims and bring into account perpetrators all over the world.
Somaly Mam Foundation
Somaly Mam – a victim of sex trafficking herself – is not just a survivor or a thriver, she has devoted her life to rescuing other young girls from Cambodia’s sex industry, restoring them and empowering them to live full lives.
Christian Community Development Association
CCDA is on the forefront of empowering Christians to restore and rebuild under resourced communities in the U.S. and around the world. At the heart of CCDA’s mission is putting in to practice the three R’s: Reconciliation (racial, class, education, gender, etc.), Redistribution (of resources) and Relocation (moving pieces of our lives closer to those who are in need).
Exploit No More
Exploit No More exists to provide awareness, advocacy and after-care for the victims of child sex trafficking in Wisconsin. They hope to establish a safe house in 2014 for the care of girls rescued from trafficking. Currently in Wisconsin, there is no place for a girl to go to get her life back together after being rescued.
Inhabit’s mission statement is “to bear witness to the Kingdom of God by recruiting Christians to intentionally live and serve in under-resourced Milwaukee neighborhoods.” There are 8,000 foreclosed homes in the city of Milwaukee. Inhabit systematically acquires these homes, rehabilitates them and then moves people in who are committed to their neighborhood and to Christ.
Hands Producing Hope
Hands Producing Hope is an organization that empowers the Guyami women of Costa Rica to begin their own micro businesses. HPH then showcases and sells the jewelry, bags, accessories and other artisan work for the women. The women are paid a fair and living wage. They are also in the process of establishing opportunities for the women to engage in continuing education classes.
Blood Water Mission
Blood Water Mission partners with communities in Africa to empower local leaders and to help alleviate the clean water and HIV/AIDS crises in Africa.
From their website: “We are partners. We are friends. We come alongside community leaders in villages and towns across the continent of Africa. It would be tempting to swoop in, dig a well and go home. But in several years those wells would run dry. To make a substantial, sustainable, difference in these communities we listen, learn and build relationships with those who know the challenges and solutions best — the people we are striving to serve.”
* the parable of the Talents can be found in Matthew 25.
** Image credit: Matthias Prospero via the Creative Commons.