Oh, I hadn't thought of that. So today I set out with the help of my trusty friend google.com to experiment and see what I come up with.
I decided to start with the charity Kiva. It has it's own website kiva.org. The slogan on the website is, "empower people around the world with a $25 loan." Initially this sounds great to me. $25 is about the right amount of money for someone like me to give. So let's find out more about this charity.
Kiva was founded in 2005 and is based in San Francisco, CA. Its mission is to connect people with lending to alleviate poverty. The goal here is to allow people the opportunity to create a better life for themselves. I learned when reading The Blue Sweater that people will be more invested in their project and making it successful if they are lent the money instead of receiving a gift. It makes them have pride in themselves and what they're doing. Kiva claims that 100% of every dollar they receive goes to micro-finance loans. They do not take a cute. (this seems to be going in the right direction). They do not charge interest on these loans.
Kiva's staff at their San Francisco headquarters
Ok I must digress here. Obviously this book The Blue Sweater had a huge impact on my thinking in regards to philanthropy and especially micro-finance loans. The author's view is that interest should be charged. This way the philanthropy stays afloat and is not always looking for handouts and you are holding the people accountable for the money you are lending. The author doesn't mean charging them an exorbitant amount, but enough to show that you are serious. I'm not saying that I disagree with Kiva's idea to not charge interest, but I do think it's worth noting.
Something I do like about this organization is that they have Field Partners who are in charge of the process of administering these loans. That means that someone is out there making sure the ideas are sound and the people are serious. This is much better than sending over checks. Face to face time is a must.
taken from Kiva.org. 2 Domican Republic girls pose for Kiva Field Partner.
Now I must leave Kiva's website and find out what other information exists on this company. In a NY Times article, they criticize Kiva for slick marketing that makes people think they have control over who they are giving the money to. Meaning, you would sign up to give $25 to a baker in Nairobi but that money is actually just sent to a pool of money that is then given out by those Field Partners. I'm not too concerned with this negative press. The money is still going to a good cause. And since this article is dated (2009), this wording has been changed on Kiva's website. This same article goes into a long winded discussion about exemptions and tax status, which to be honest, I'm not that concerned about.
The other articles that pop up when searching Kiva are from individual donors who are enthusiastically promoting the charity.
Bottom line: I like the idea of micro-finance loans. I think Kiva is a solid organization to invest in.
One thing I think about is, do I want to help globally or locally? Kiva is a global organization. It's helping someone thousands of miles from me. Yes, it's a third world country and we have a duty to help them, but our own country has people who need help to. Obviously, it's a personal choice. One I'm probably going to ponder my whole life.