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Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Earthquake in Haiti and Charitable Giving

‘Heartbroken and shocked’ are the words to describe my reactions to the news of the devastating earthquake in Haiti.  The bloodied children without their parents, running in rubble-filled streets.  A leg sticking out from under tons of concrete, while a young man next to it tries to dig out the teacher, trapped yet alive, under what’s left of a school.

Particulars, photographs and video, humanize this event in far-flung places like New York, London, Tehran, Shanghai.  We are responding, at least some are responding, to help.  I have sent money, which is not much, but it’s what I can do right now.

Some, instead of identifying with the human suffering in Haiti, are reacting in small, mean ways.  Rush Limbaugh cynically notes the catastrophe is to Barack Obama’s advantage: the president will gain cred with the black community.  Limbaugh quips, "We've already donated to Haiti. It's called the U.S. income tax."  How anyone who’s semi-moral can listen to this exemplar of excess and do-nothing claptrap is beyond me.  Yet Limbaugh has made millions, but not from an America that represents its most generous and open-minded citizens.

I hated CNN when Lou Dobbs dominated their spotlight, but last night, one day after the Haitian earthquake, Anderson Cooper was reporting from Port-au-Prince, while Fox News was lovingly focused on Sarah Palin’s musings with Bill O’Reilly.  There is a morality to reporting the news: what you focus on and how you focus on it reveal much about who you are and what you care about.  We’ve entered a Nietzschean moment on the news: the power of the people will decide what’s ‘truth’ and what’s ‘trash,’ and their decision may change (schizophrenically) every few years.

When I give to charity, I am indeed hard-nosed about it.  I want to give to charities which are efficient.  That is, whatever dollars I give I want to make sure the highest percentage, perhaps over 85 percent, goes to the purpose of the charity, not overhead, nor managerial salaries, nor more ads to entice more donors.  I want to give, but I want it to be effective.

So I’ve relied on a few sources, and three important ones are the ratings of the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP), the annual Forbes list of efficient charities, and Charity Navigator.  One of my favorites charities, the National Hispanic Scholarship Fund, which awards scholarships to educate Latinos, uses about 87 cents out of every dollar for its programs, and garners an ‘A’ rating from AIP.

It’s been a tough couple of years for many people, but after looking at what is happening in Haiti, I want to help.  I want to do something besides watch the unfolding tragedy on television.  Here are a few charities, and their efficiency percentages (i.e. what percentage of donations goes to their programs). They need your support now.  All figures are from Charity Navigator, the letter grades from AIP.

Doctors Without Borders, (87 percent; A)

CARE (90 percent; A)

Save the Children (92 percent; A)

International Medical Corps (92 percent; A+)

American Red Cross (90 percent; A-)

Dozens of charities and their hyperlinks are listed by AIP, and Charity Navigator is free, with an email registration.  Give now, do it intelligently, and help those who desperately need it.

P.S. On the subway today, I read this poem on my iPhone, from Emily Dickinson's complete works:

Who has not found the heaven below
Will fail of it above.
God's residence is next to mine,
His furniture is love.


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