Five hundred and forty-eight

I almost completely forgot that it was Wednesday and my regular blog post is due.  I love the fall, but the change in weather from hot to cool is making my body go crazy.  I’ve picked up some kind of virus that has left me physically and mentally exhausted, plus of course the sore throat, cough, fever, aches, sinus headache, and the rest of the usual fun flu stuff.  I hate being sick!  Well, I doubt anyone likes being sick, but I’m really not very good at relaxing and waiting for my body to heal itself.

Luckily, I have a guest blog post this week, so I don’t have to try to sound intelligent and put together much longer.  A few weeks ago I wrote on giving to charities: how do you know where your money is going?  There was a comment from my cousin Nikki, whom I’ve mentioned before as being the first person I ever knew to write on a blog and has since created her own company to design blogs for non-profit companies, as well as continues to write herself on One Tiny Starfish.  She has done a lot of charity work and has traveled a lot in the past few years to donate her time to those in need.  I asked her if she would write a little something on good charities to donate to, her experiences with different charities in the places she’s visited, and any other information about donating that could be interesting.  I figured she is more of an expert than I am on the subject.  Without further ado (and because I don’t think I’m going to able to make much sense in a moment and I really need sleep), here is Nikki:

When I was in high school, I began having an interest in international development. At the time, I knew of only the major charities; World Vision, PLAN Canada, UNICEF, etc. I liked the idea of writing letters to a sponsor child, and so went online to World Vision’s website, looked through a photolisting of children around the world, and began sponsoring a 7 year old girl from Ethiopia named Tsehay. I paid $30/month and didn’t know exactly where my money was going, but trusted that it was going somewhere good. I looked forward to receiving new photos of Tsehay and letters from her in the mail. I didn’t question where my money was going or how much of my money was going to Ethiopia and how much was going to administrative fees. I didn’t even really know what administrative fees were.

Over the years, I have spent most of my summers overseas doing the work I dreamed of doing when I was in high school. It has been through these experiences in Kenya, India, Haiti, and Uganda, among other countries, as well as two years working for an international non-profit, that opened my eyes to the ideas that 1) big name charities are a business, and 2) small, grassroots charities are often doing much better, more focused work and need our support even more. I know longer trust that my money is going to a good place, and now realize that not all help is good help. I now scrutinize websites before donating, and ask questions in order to ensure my funds are going where I want them to go.

Just a week ago I returned from India where I spent time volunteering with Sarah’s Covenant Homes ( This was my second experience with this organization, and I could not speak more highly of them. The disabled in India are considered the lowest of the low. These 105 children under the care of SCH, all with disabilities, were abandoned due to the stigma of having a disabled child. SCH provides everything for these kids that parents would. Many of the kids, who are capable of being educated, go to private English-speaking schools. The government orphanages for children with disabilities leave the children on mats on the floor all day, with no toys, stimulation, or even diapers. The SCH children have nutritious food, physiotherapy, toys, committed caregivers, medication, and surgeries if needed. 100% of the money donated to SCH goes to the care of these children. Right now, SCH is running a campaign called 105 in 105; an attempt to get all 105 children sponsored in 105 days. Lily is one of my favourite kids at SCH and she needs a sponsor! She is 7 years old and has cerebral palsy. She is the sweetest, funniest little girl I know and is so bright. Go to to learn more, and know that 100% of your money is going directly to making a difference in her life. All these kids are available for international adoption, and so one day my dream is that we will be able to see Lily find a forever family and watch her thrive outside of an orphanage. SCH is working hard to make sure this happens.

Lily at Sarah’s Covenant Homes

Real Hope For Haiti ( is another organization that is small and unknown to most, but doing incredible work. RHFH focuses mostly on healthcare, although they have education programs, employ over 100 women and men, and do literacy and job training for adults. They are making a huge difference in rural Haiti. Children come to the RHFH clinic every single day weighing next to nothing and dying from the sad fact that their parents don’t have the resources to feed them enough protein-rich food. RHFH nurses these kids back to health with a high-protein peanut butter paste called Medika Mamba, and supports their families to help them get back on their feet so they can properly care for their children.

Real Hope for Haiti

There are hundreds of organizations like this around the world, doing quiet, incredible work that few people know about. Don’t let your skepticism of big name charities stop you from donating. I have worked with these charities. I have kissed these children and seen the donations hard at work. Do your research before donating, and find one like SCH or RHFH that you can trust. There are kids like Lily whose quality of life relies on it!

(Thanks Nikki!)

Five hundred and twenty-seven

Giving to charity: how do you know where your money is going?

I like to donate to charities.  I am helping others.  I feel good about myself.  I get a tax receipt.  Up until now I’ve chosen the charities I do donate to haphazardly: someone I know asks me to sponsor them in a bike ride; or I come across a good cause on the internet or in an article in the newspaper; or a friend or family member is affected by a specific cause.  Sometimes I just pick it because it’s in my community and I hope I’m helping those around me.

During Good Deed Month in December, I wrote about The Science of Good Deeds and that doing something nice for someone else decreases your stress levels and helps in your physical and mental health.  I also found the more you do good deeds, the more those around you will want to help others out, and vice versa.  This refers more to actual volunteering and physical interactions, but can also refer to helping from afar (such as donating money or objects) if you feel a direct connection with the cause.

If I have the money to spare, I can only see the good in giving it to others in need.  I never really thought about how much of what I donate goes to the actual cause, though.  I knew administration took some of it, but I never really thought of that being my money.  I donated to Habitat For Humanity last year and they recently sent me an e-mail saying they were ranked an A+ in overall charity efficiency in MoneySense Magazine’s review of Canada’s largest 100 charities.  That took me to the MoneySense website and I started looking at all of the charities and their ranking.  I am a bit in shock.  Why are people being paid over $350,000 to work for a charity?  How is it possible that in some cases less than 50% of the money raised goes towards the program or that it costs over $50 (in fundraising costs, etc.) to raise $100?  There has to be something wrong with this model.

This list refers only to Canadian charities, but whichever country you live in, I’m now realizing how important it is to research what your money is used for before you give to anyone.  Some of the organizations I have donated to in the past are on this list and haven’t received very good grades in efficiency and transparency.  I work hard for my money and I don’t have a ton of it.  When I choose to give some of those dollars away, I fully expect some of it will go to the people who are working hard to make that charity run.  They of course have to make a living as well, and are doing it in a very honourable manner.  But I don’t think anyone should be earning hundreds of thousands of dollars.  And there’s got to be a way to cut the costs of fundraising.  Isn’t there?  Am I just being naive?

I am still going to donate money, because I believe in helping other people, but I’m going to do a bit more research of who I sign that cheque to from now on.