Thursday, January 9, 2014

Giving to Charity While in Debt

As you all know, I’ve been in pay-off-debt mode for almost two years. I put as much as possible towards my debt and as you know, I completed that journey last month. To do this, I gave up things, and for the most part I haven’t missed the things I gave up (i.e. new clothes, lots of dinners out, big cable package, etc). In fact, I find I’m happier without these things. But there is one thing I do miss spending money on: giving to charities that do good in the world.

In December, with my debt payments winding down. I decided to donate $100 to charities. I know that isn’t a ton of money, but I was thoughtful about where I wanted to donate and picked three charities that represented causes I feel strongly about. The charities were Heifer International, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and my alma mater’s international education fund.

When I sent the payments in, I felt very good about myself. But then I remembered something - I didn’t really investigate the first two, Heifer and PVA. I saw their missions and thought “great, I’ll donate!” What I should have done was check them out on Charity Navigator, which rates charities based on their finances, transparency, and accountability. I was happy to learn that both charities received high scores in the transparency and accountability, but was disappointed to see that their overall ratings weren’t that great. This is due to their financial state - both charities spend too much on non-program expenses. Heifer was better, spending 70% of their money on the actual programs they advertise. PVA was worse, spending only 33% on their programs for veterans. They spent the most on fundraising - 66%!

Given this information, I’ll likely donate to other organizations next year. If I want to stay with the same type of organizations, I’ll try Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which received a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, and PATH, which also received a 4-star rating.

At any rate, I’m still glad I donated to charities this holiday season. I’ll use this as a learning experience and do more research before I donate next time. If you donate to any charities in the future, I urge you to do your research and make sure you are happy with how your money will be put to use. There are some organizations out there doing some really great work.

As a final note, I’ll just say the world leader I am completely impressed by right now is Pope Francis. His focus on charity and the less fortunate is so refreshing to see in a largely consumerist and “me-me” culture. I’m a big fan of this guy!


  1. If people are low on funds you can actually give yourself to charity too by volunteering or fundraising. I do the Terry Fox run every fall and raise about $500-$1000 dollars without spending a dime of my own money!

    Im sorry you arent happy with your charity choices, but good on you for giving back!!

    1. Yes - you can always donate your time! I normally like doing a combination of both, because I know charities need time and money to operate. And it's okay, I'm not horrible sad, just hope to do a better job of investigating next year!