Gift guide: charitable giving

by Eszter Hargittai on December 21, 2006

Last in this season’s gift guide series are some ideas for charitable giving. If you celebrate any of the season’s gift-giving holidays, it’s getting to that point where it is too late to order anything for delivery and soon you won’t have time to run out and buy something either. What’s left? You could make a charitable donation on behalf of the people on your list.

I am sure there are the usual suspects on everyone’s list, either charities that are the first to gain mention during any crisis, ones automatically associated with the holidays, or ones you donate to annually and so it is likely that you reach for your checkbook this time of year with specific organizations in mind. For example, we here at CT have a history of supporting causes such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation since their mission is so closely aligned with what we do.

But in addition to the usual suspects, how about considering some lesser known charities? Is bigger always better in this realm?

Recently, I stumbled upon an interesting site called the Darfur Wall.

They have put up 400,000 dark numbers in honor of the 400,000 people who have been killed in the Darfur genocide. For each dollar you donate, a number is lit up to honor a lost life. The founders of the organization are picking up all administrative costs of the site so there is very little overhead. Other than Paypal fees (it would be nice if Paypal had a different fee structure for charitable giving), all of your donation goes to the four organizations supported by this foundation, allocated specifically to Darfur relief efforts.

You can choose the number you want to light. Instead of an extra stocking stuffer or an additional cookie platter, how about lighting up some of those numbers in honor of the people on your gift list?

Whatever your choice for giving, the Charity Navigator is a helpful resource in seeing how an organization spends its money. (I suspect because the Darfur Foundation is so new, they are not yet listed.)

In related news, the New York Times had an interesting article about charitable giving written by Peter Singer the other day.



dsquared 12.21.06 at 10:57 am

hmm grmble. Save the Children and Medecins sans Frontieres are relief organisations, but “Save Darfur” and Eric Reeves’ campaign aren’t. They’re campaigning organisations advocating non-consensual UN intervention, which is not the same thing. Eric Reeves was specifically not part of the “Day for Darfur” campaign because the umbrella group involved didn’t want to be associated with his specific views on decapitating the Sudanese state. Caution advised here.


Eszter 12.21.06 at 11:29 am

There’s certainly the option of donating to those causes directly.

Save the Children (although it’s not clear whether you can specify Darfur as the target cause, but I’m sure their other causes need plenty of support as well)

Doctors without Borders links to various country organizations. U.S. here. Again, no way to specify target spending, I don’t think.


Adam 12.21.06 at 11:42 am

Paypal does have a different fee structure for charities – at least in the uk:


The Modesto Kid 12.21.06 at 12:46 pm

I always like to put in a plug for Heifer Project. In lieu of giving your friend an actual water buffalo or hive of bees, you can give that livestock to a needy farmer on his/her behalf.


moriaty 12.21.06 at 1:38 pm

Contrary to what the post suggests, the NYT article is written by Singer and is about charitable giving. It is not about charitable giving by Peter Singer. [Added clarification. — Ed.]


novakant 12.21.06 at 5:12 pm

dsquared, to be honest, I’m not really up to date on the Darfur situation in general and the different approaches to solving it in particular, but it seems that Reeves is pushing for political and military action, which seems to be needed badly, since there doesn’t seem to be any improvement – I wonder why this is regarded as not quite kosher, but then, as I said, I don’t know the details

generally, though, I have become quite disillusioned with the effect relief agencies have on conflicts like these; a lot of humanitarian catastrophes are the result of bad government and lack of international will to push the parties towards conflict resolution; it seems to me that putting pressure on the powers that be to reach a political solution is a much more efficient way to help the victims of such conflicts and that, while short-term relief is necessary, long-term efforts can actually be counterproductive, as they have the side-effect of stabilizing a horrible situation letting the conflict parties carry on doing what they do and the international community get away with ignoring it

the above is just a somewhat informed intuition, I’m curious what others with maybe more information or even experience have to say


heart guy 12.22.06 at 12:31 am

Here’s a shameless plug for a brand new charity setup to support heart research:
Scanlon Cardiovascular Research Fund


Jonah Burke (The Darfur Wall) 12.22.06 at 1:52 pm

Eszter, thanks for posting about The Darfur Wall.

dsquared, you raise valid concerns. We chose the beneficiaries of The Darfur Wall because we believe that advocacy and humanitarian aid are complementary approaches to the Darfur problem. We must help the people of Darfur, but we must also pressure the people in power.

I should say, too, that your description of Eric Reeves’ Sudan Aid Fund is not accurate. Much of the Sudan Aid Fund goes to humanitarian causes, including MSF and Save the Children. You can find Eric Reeves and the fund in MSF’s recent annual report.


lisa 12.24.06 at 3:55 pm

If you want to give money to MSF or Save the Children, then it’s best to give it directly, with no filter in between.

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