High Impact Holiday Giving

How can I make the greatest difference in the lives of others? During this traditional season of giving, here are nonprofit models that do just that.

Can the canned food drive

No session at our Nov 7th  inaugural donor seminar, co-hosted with the Annie E. Casey Foundation,  resulted in as much immediate donor action as John Arnold’s discussion of how donors could bring 20 times more food to needy families by ‘canning’ the canned food drive. A far more effective way to get food to needy families is to take the money you’d spend on the canned food donations and make a financial contribution to a food pantry that lets clients choose which food they take.  Watch Can the Canned Food Drive or this Fox News segment to learn exactly why. Then go to Feeding America to find your local food bank who can help you locate the food pantries in your area that are using this high-impact model.

Ensure safe and stable housing through prevention and counseling

At that same seminar, Mariana Chilton eloquently described – and her Witnesses to Hunger project vividly shows – how hunger is as much a housing and jobs issue as it is a food issue. Dennis Culhane outlined a smarter, more cost-effective approach to preventing homelessness. And with foreclosure moratoria expiring, housing counseling and financial ’emergency rooms’  like those provided by CredAbility help stabilize vulnerable families and keep them in their homes. You can read more about their model in High Impact Philanthropy in the Downturn.

Give children a better start, before they’re born  . . .

Few US-based nonprofits have as much rigorous evidence of efficacy and cost-effectiveness as Nurse-Family Partnership. Nurses make home visits to vulnerable, first-time mothers, providing healthcare, childcare, and educational support to moms while they are pregnant with their first child and until that child turns 2. The result: healthier moms and healthier children who are far less likely to become involved in drugs or crime and far more likely to finish school than children from comparable backgrounds.

. . .then help them reach their potential by improving teaching quality

Teachers are the biggest in-school factor affecting student outcomes. Yet, too often, we fail to develop and support the excellent teaching that enables students to reach their full potential. In her recent EdWeek editorial: Averting a Human Capital Train Wreck, Linda Katz of Children’s Literacy Initiative (a recent Federal I3 grant winner whose model we profiled in Pathways to Student Success) describes why.  In our donor guide on improving teaching quality, we’ll outline how nonprofits like The New Teacher Center, Urban Teacher Residencies United, New Leaders for New Schools, as well as charter schools like GreenDot and non-charter schools like Generation Schools have pioneered models that bring the promise of a great education to all students.

Fund recovery and rebuilding  (beyond  immediate relief)

When it comes to major disasters like the earthquake in Haiti, the hard work of rebuilding continues long after the headlines fade. The models we describe in Haiti: How Can I Help continue to be essential to moving beyond the devastation that country has experienced. These models target three pillars of successful economic development: health, education, and livelihoods. In fact, in his most recent Op-ed: Gift of Hope, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff highlights two of the organizations whose models we profiled in April:  Fonkoze and Partners in Health. Others such as Hopital Albert Schweitzer, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, and International Rescue Committee all employ high impact models that translate donor funds into a meaningful difference in people’s lives.

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The run-up to December 31st is the busiest time for charitable donations. In his recent post, Wise Distributions: Moving Beyond the Giving Pledge, David Colby, Vice President of Research & Evaluation at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation urges donors to incorporate evidence-based decision making into their philanthropy. But you don’t need to be a billionaire philanthropist to take David’s advice.

For our team, any good answer to the question,  How can I spend my funds to make the greatest difference in the lives of others?, must be both actionable and informed by the best available evidence. Many donors lack the time, knowledge, skill, or patience to understand which models offer the best opportunities for impact. Our hope is that by doing much of the legwork for donors – big and small – our team enables people to move more quickly and confidently from concern and good intentions to impact.

Best wishes for this holiday season.