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One Small Change

It’s Better to Give When Not Deceived

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Years (okay, decades) ago when I was a cub reporter at a small-town newspaper, I was sent to cover a meeting of the local United Way. It was at a nice restaurant, and I was shocked to see board members ordering top-shelf booze, jumbo shrimp cocktail, and surf-and-turf. Being fresh out of college and a product of the Woodward and Bernstein era, I thought I was about to break the next Watergate—how these hometown fat cats were wasting donor dollars on bibs and brown butter. I’d even snapped a few clandestine photos and sweet-talked the waitress into giving me a copy of the check as evidence. When I handed the story to the city editor, he just smiled at my naiveté as he dutifully redlined (yes, these were the days of paper and pencil) all the juicy material. When he finished, my story was devoid of color and criticism—little more than a recitation of the meeting’s minutes.

I learned a number of lessons that day, largely about small-town cronyism but also about the business that is big giving. And that last one has stuck with me. Every year at this time when the charities start ringing their bells and holding out their hands in earnest, I remember that dinner and walk right by them. It’s stupid, I know, but I still feel that if I’m going to surrender my hard-earned cash then I don’t want even 1.35 percent of it going toward some bureaucratic bash. This mindset has resulted in me giving very little over the years, and as I get older I feel increasingly guilty about that.

This month’s One Small Change is about exercising my maximus philanthropis, or building up my heart muscle in a way that for once isn’t cardiovascular. And in the process, I’ve been nosing around the Internet in an effort to find some causes I can trust and support. If a similar suspicion has been keeping you from volunteering time or money, then here are some of the best resources I’ve found for intelligent giving:


This independent organization evaluates and rates 5,400 U.S. charities according to how responsibly they function and their program’s sustainability. Simply type in the name of the charity you’re considering helping, and you’ll see a breakdown of its revenue and expenses, plus an overall and an efficiency rating. There’s also lots of helpful advice for interpreting the data and further evaluating charities on your own. Don’t have time for all this homework? Look at the Top Ten Lists, which includes 10 Charities with the Most Consecutive 4-Star Ratings, 10 Highly Rated Charities with Low-Paid CEOs, and 10 Charities Drowning in Administrative Costs.


The nonprofit American Institute of Philanthropy, which runs this site, positions itself as a toothy watchdog and gives letter grades to approximately 500 charities. You can peruse the top-rated ones for free.


This one is run by the venerable Better Business Bureau. Enter the name of a charity into its search engine for an overview of its operation and to see whether any complaints have been filed against it. It’s especially useful for smaller, local causes.


Looking to donate time? Some 73,000 nonprofits come here to recruit volunteers. Enter your hometown and/or a keyword of what you’re looking to do (mentor, help the elderly, etc.), and you’ll get a list of possibilities. For instance, I found 108 opportunities within a 20-mile radius of where I live, including soup kitchen assistant, Appalachian Trail worker, feral-cat trapper, and wig-fitter for the American Cancer Society.

So where did all this research lead me? Well, as I outlined in my last blog, I’m still going to be taking a portion of the money Core Performance paid me this year—$2,000 to be exact—and give it away to 40 strangers in $50 increments before Christmas. I’ll detail that adventure in a coming blog. But in the meantime I also spotted an ad from the Salvation Army, and next Saturday at the Lehigh Valley Mall in Whitehall, Pennsylvania, I’ll be volunteering for 10 hours as Red Kettle bell-ringer. I’ll even have my own apron and cap. Ding. Ding.

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About The Author

Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.

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Tags: Home, Goals, Attitude, Leisure Time