Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Unite To Give

As you may know, I'm a big fan of charitable giving, and about finding ways to do so with my child. Part of my impulse is born out of the fact that almost all of my paid work experience has been in the service of non-profit organizations, and part of it is because I just deeply believe that helping others is the right thing to do. That helping can take different forms, like volunteering, sponsoring a friend in a walk-a-thon, donating stuff to a thrift shop, and of couse direct cash contributions.

At the end of the calendar year, we sit down and talk through the pile of envelopes from this, that and the other place. Shall we give to help the homeless? Or the animal shelter? Or the local fire department? How about the library, or an arts organization? Maybe Doctors Without BordersPartners in Health, Planned Parenthood or Physicians for a National Health Program? There are so many, so very many worthy causes that it can be hard to focus the conversation.

Members Unite is a new platform for giving, with a little twist. They choose nine projects a month; you get to vote on one, and your monthly membership fee goes to the winning project. It's actually a little more complicated - in a one month cycle, nine become six become three become WINNER - but you get the gist. Sitting down with my child to winnow the initial nine down to our weekly pick was fun.

The nine projects were an eclectic bunch. Two were to support “random acts of kindess” – distributing smile cards and handing out helium balloons. A few big well-known charities like DonorsChoose and the Nature Conservancy were included. One project would provide companion dogs for veterans with PTSD, another would supply milk for young children in Guatemala. Several addressed different facets of homelessness: Schools on Wheels tutors for homeless children, doors for houses built by Habitat for Humanity, local healthy produce for at risk women in Chicago. The girl and I talked about each of the nine. “I like animals but I wish it was a cat, because I don’t like dogs. Balloons are stupid. I like education.” In the end, we picked Sarah’s Circle, because “I want people to be healthy.”:

Empower At-Risk Women with Fresh Food
Talk of the local food movement is sweeping the nation, as foodies, bloggers and chefs wax poetic about the virtues of fresh-from-the-nearby-farm fruits and veggies. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love the crunch of a fresh carrot, or the sweetness of a succulent summer strawberry? The reality is that fresh produce can be more expensive than canned or frozen fruits or veggies, meaning that women seeking sustenance at homeless shelters don’t get the full health benefits—or the joy of biting into a perfectly ripe peach. Fortunately, Sarah’s Circle, a Chicago refuge for homeless and at-risk women, is implementing a solution through its Fruits and Vegetables Project. The wonderful people at Sarah’s Circle have streamlined a process that allows them to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the women they feed for only $75-100/week. If members choose this project, we can help Sarah’s Circle provide healthy produce to their beneficiaries for an entire year!
In order to participate, you sign up and pay a $25/year membership fee (which covers their site overhead and operating expenses), and commit to a monthly contribution of $5, $10 or $20. At present, the monthly fee - the part that ends up going to charity - isn't tax deductible, but they say they're working on that (which is good, because it should be). The annual membership fee isn't refundable, but "you can cancel your monthly donation with 30 days' notice".

It's an interesting concept. By making charitable giving into a collaborative process and pre-selecting a handful of projects, it makes it very easy to get children invested in the world of giving. Sure, it's my nickel, not hers, but she and I together made the choice to vote for the vegetables, and we'll go back next week and see how the vegetables are doing. Together we'll make our garden grow.

What do you think? Do you give to charity? How do you encourage kids and young people to give back? Are you inclined to join Members Unite? And if you do, which project will you vote for?

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For a limited time, Members Unite is offering my community a 50% off discount on the annual membership fee of $25! Use code “WELOVEMOMS” when you sign up!

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