"Every good act is charity. A [sic] man's true wealth hereafter is the good that he does in this world to his fellows." Moliere
Be cautious with regards to foundations. Some foundations (The United Way for instance) does amazing work, and is responsible for supporting a great many wonderful charities and non-profit groups. However, corporate foundations (yup, another upcoming blog entry) may eat away at your donation by redundant administrative fees - part of your donation supports the corporate foundation (said foundation providing not only publicity for the corporation but also a tax break), which then gives what's left of your donation to a charity, which also has administrative fees. Each foundation you are interested in needs to be vetted, and you need to make your own choice. If you are interested in donating to a corporate foundation, you also need to research the corporation in order to avoid green washing (yes, another upcoming blog - oh my!) and the support of shady practises. My personal choice is to donate directly to a group I want to support. Know how you feel about this issue, and know how your gift receiver feels.
Do they have a sustainable, long term view that attempts to deal with causal factors (for instance, groups that try to save endangered species through eradicating the poverty and environmental degradation that often threatens species)? Do they only deal with short-term relief (for instance, food banks)? Do they have a two-pronged approach which targets short-term relief as well as long term causation? How do you feel about these approaches (and your view may differ from cause to cause).
Do they treat their donors with respect? Do they accept dedicated funds? Do they refuse to accept funds under a specified amount? If the group only accepts non-dedicated
If they are collecting money for research into a disease, where does this money go? "Towards research" is far too general. Do you, or the person you hope to honour, have concerns about the use of animals in medical research? If so, then you need to ask about the policies regarding this issue. Will research be conducted using pharmaceutical companies, or will pharmaceutical companies benefit from the resulting drugs created with research you are funding? Who will own the patent? These are things you should think about.
To assume, however, that any gift given to a group that works in one of these fields would honour me would be a mistake. The World Wildlife Fund, which I have supported over the years, has recently 'partnered' with Coca-Cola, accepting $2 million to be received over the next five years, to be used to help protect polar bear habitat. This looks like a good thing on the surface - however, I am concerned with a number of issues surrounding this (yes, subject of a future blog). I presently choose not to support WWF, while I research the issues and inform myself.
Most people will be more than happy to have this type of discussion with you. Honestly, most people have already wrestled, at least to some degree, with some of the issues I have raised and have a few charities or causes that they feel drawn to. Don't forget to periodically revisit the discussion with people you love, to see if their 'pet' charities have changed.
Be honest if there is a conflict.
If, for instance, someone asks me to donate to The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, I would explain, politely and respectfully, that I would be unable to send them money as I had a number of ethical concerns with the group. I would then offer to do some research into breast cancer groups and come back to them with a list of groups that I could support, and have them choose one. I could also, if they preferred, donate to another group that they supported. While the donation I am giving in someone's name is meant to honour him/her, it still has to be a group that I can give to without feeling ethically compromised. If you are respectful and supportive of the giftee's right to support a group, then s/he should understand.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (This organisation is not a good choice for everyone. Focusing on the healing and preventative role that a balanced vegan diet can play in good health, and in treating and preventing a number of diseases, this group not only conducts research, but also promotes veganism and responsible medical practises. A great choice for vegans, vegetarians, those interested in animal rights, those who feel that medicine and medical research is frequently controlled by big business and lobbyists.)
Save Our Coastal Fishery (This non-profit should be familiar, from my last blog entry - Nov. 27, 2011. This group is fighting open-pen salmon farming in Atlantic Canada, and fights to protect the coastline and lobster fishers from toxic chemicals and pollution caused by this practise.)
Food Banks Canada (While this group attempts to provide short-term relief to hunger in Canada rather than a long-term solution/s or a two-pronged approach, I can tell you from personal experience that food banks offer a critical service in this country. For more information, you can scroll down to the blog archives and look at the second blog entry I made, entitled "Hunger".)
The Slave Lake Library Fund (For more information, please scroll down to my blog archives and see the third blog entry, entitled "For the Love of Books".)
Thinking Forward (I have had only limited contact with this group which involved some base and preliminary suggestions regarding their volunteer programme. I have, however, agreed to serve as a consultant when they are large enough to need me. This is a great group for those interested in youth development, in leadership training, and in fostering civic involvement.)
I hope that the above has given you something to think about, and provides you with information regarding the how-tos of giving gifts that continue to give. Let me know of any other groups/organisations that you feel are deserving, and I will be happy to list them in a follow-up blog entry.