15 Charities for Investors

Charitable donations may be more important than ever this year. In October, the unemployment rate in the United States rose from 6.1 percent to 6.5 percent. According to …

Charitable donations may be more important than ever this year. In October, the unemployment rate in the United States rose from 6.1 percent to 6.5 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 10.1 million Americans out of work this holiday season. That’s 2.8 million more unemployed workers since the same time last year. Out of these 10.1 million people without employment, 2.3 million have been out of work for more than 27 weeks. Programs supporting the financially disadvantaged at home and abroad will need all the help they can get in order to help those who are struggling in our floundering economy.

Donating even a small amount could do a world of good for people in need around the world. But there are so many deserving non-profits that trying to select one or two to sponsor can be an intimidating task in and of itself.

Always consider a non-profit’s legitimacy and efficiency before sending any money. Check the organization out with the Better Business Bureau or with a trusted charity evaluator. When assessing a charity’s financial efficiency, take a look at how much money the organization spends on the actual charitable program as compared to other expenses. It is generally expected that charities spend at least 75 percent of funds on program expenses. This information can be found using sites like Charity Navigator and Give.org. Alternatively, investors can contact non-profits directly and request a Form 990, which contains relevant spending statistics.

These 15 charities have been selected based on positive ratings from the Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator, a top charity evaluator. They also serve functions that are relevant to investors, whether they make loans to aspiring entrepreneurs, support low-income housing or provide important job skills training.

This list is by no means all that is available for investors looking to contribute. CharityNavigator.org and Give.org offer thorough evaluations of non-profits and are excellent resources for those who want to donate.

Our 2008 list of charitable organizations has been compiled in alphabetical order.

American Architectural Foundation (http://www.archfoundation.org/aaf/aaf/index.htm)
Program Expenses: 77.6 percent
Administrative/General Expenses: 17.1 percent
Fundraising Expenses: 5.2 percent

The American Architectural Foundation (AAF) works with local leaders to shape communities in ways that positively affect residents’ quality of life.

“The heart of our program is the design institute. Institutes bring together community leaders and design professionals in a two-day, closed door session where leaders present current design challenge from their community and design professionals and community leaders discuss, critique and brainstorm each project,” Helen Weschler, vice president of communications and partnership development for AAF, said. “In the coming months, AAF will introduce two new programs: the Sustainable Cities Design Academy and the Presidents’ Institute on Campus and Community Design.”

One of the institute’s former attendees is Dr. Susan Gourley, superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools. “Lincoln now has [two] bold new schools underway. One will share space with a city library branch and another will serve as the site for a new YMCA,” according to Weschler.

ArtSpace (http://www.artspace.org/)
Program Expenses: 91.8 percent
Administrative/General Expenses: 5.4 percent
Fundraising Expenses: 2.7 percent

ArtSpace works to provide affordable living and working spaces for artists through property development, consulting services, asset management and resource development in communities.

“Finding and retaining affordable live/work space is an age-old problem for artists, painters, sculptors, dancers, and others who require an abundance of well-lit space in which to work. Many artists gravitate to old warehouses and other industrial buildings, but their very presence in an industrial neighborhood often acts as a catalyst, setting in motion a process of gentrification that drives rents up and forces the artists out,” according to the organization’s website. Properties are subsidized for artists, creating an affordable place to live and work even after neighborhood property values begin to rise.

ArtSpace owns and operates properties throughout the United States. It has existing properties in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington state. More locations are in the works in other states.

Ashoka (http://www.ashoka.org/)
Program Expenses: 88.7 percent
Administrative/General Expenses: 3.9 percent
Fundraising Expenses: 7.3 percent

Ashoka identifies and supports new social entrepreneurs by providing them with living stipends for approximately three years. This allows them to focus exclusively on developing their projects.

“We believe that the growth of a global citizen sector begins with the work of individual social entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs drive the sector forward, responding to new challenges and changing needs,” the company’s site states. “Since 1981, [Ashoka has] elected over 2,000 leading social entrepreneurs as Ashoka Fellows, providing them with living stipends, professional support, and access to a global network of peers in more than 60 countries.”

“Dialog in the Dark,” an exhibition that challenges visitors to experience the world as a visually impaired person, was created by Ashoka Fellow Andeas Heinecke. The exhibition has employed more than 5,000 blind or visually impaired individuals around the world, according to an Ashoka press release.

The Aspen Institute (http://www.aspeninstitute.org/)
Program Expenses: 80.6 percent
Administrative/General Expenses: 16 percent
Fundraising Expenses: 3.3 percent

The Aspen Institute aims to foster values-based leadership and provide a neutral place for discussion of critical issues. It offers seminars, fellowship programs, policy programs and conferences.

“Aspen’s seminars, programs and leadership initiatives offer a chance for restorative reflection on the meaning of the good life, leadership, and sound public policy based on nonpartisan principles and timeless ideas. The endeavor is particularly relevant today. We have passed through a period in the 1990s when we saw the consequences, in both the business and political arenas, of becoming unhinged from underlying values. We face a world in which the biggest threat, to nations and to communities, is a lack of tolerance and understanding. Our core mission is to foster enlightened leadership and open-minded dialogue,” according to a statement by Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of The Aspen Institute.

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The Aspen Institute partners with The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and E*TRADE FINANCIAL on the Youth Entrepreneurship Strategy Group (YES GROUP). On Nov. 18, YES GROUP launched the nation’s first policy guide on youth entrepreneurship in conjunction with the “I Said Yes” campaign, which “charges leaders to support youth entrepreneurship by raising awareness, taking policy action and providing financial resources for programs,” according to an Aspen press release.

E+Co (http://www.eandco.net)
Program Expenses: 75.4 percent
Administrative/General Expenses: 15.9 percent
Fundraising Expenses: 8.5 percent

E+Co identifies and supports “high impact” clean energy businesses that are new or emerging in developing countries. It does so by investing capital and services in these businesses.

“In the early nineties, the Rockefeller Foundation asked for an assessment of impact opportunity within the vast sphere of the global environment. E+Co’s recommendation was threefold: fund energy initiatives, do it in the developing world and invest in business because the need far surpasses government capacity for growth,” according to the organization’s website.

E+Co currently supports clean energy businesses in Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mali, Morocco, Nepal, Nicaragua, Panama, Philippines, Senegal, Singapore, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, The Gambia, Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia.

Endeavor (http://www.endeavor.org)
Program Expenses: 81.1 percent
Administrative/General Expenses: 3.9 percent
Fundraising Expenses: 14.8 percent

Endeavor specifically targets entrepreneurs with high impact potential and supports them with strategic advice and much-needed capital. The organization’s goal is to help these entrepreneurs become role models who encourage others to take innovative risks as well.

“With Endeavor’s guidance [entrepreneurs] become ‘high-impact’—expanding employment, generating wealth and inspiring others to innovate,” Elmira Bayrasli–partnerships, policy and outreach for Endeavor—said. Often overlooked, these local entrepreneurs are now jumpstarting private sector development in their countries.”

More than 86,000 jobs and $2.5 billion in revenue were created by 333 Endeavor entrepreneurs in 2007, according to Bayrasli. “Endeavor currently has 409 high-impact entrepreneurs from 266 companies in its portfolio from 11 emerging market countries. Endeavor plans to expand into 25 markets by 2015 with the assistance of the Endeavor Entrepreneurs who have lived up to the organization’s mantra ‘of, by and for’ entrepreneurs,” she said.

Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. (http://www.enterprisecommunity.org)
Program Expenses: 83.6 percent
Administrative/General Expenses: 14.3 percent
Fundraising Expenses: 1.9 percent

Enterprise provides low-income families and individuals with access to affordable housing solutions. The organization offers financial services to support affordable housing development, advocates for federal and local policies that support affordable housing and partners with public and private institutions to reach housing goals.

“Enterprise tackles the challenges that other organizations will not attempt. When a need exists and no solution is available, Enterprise creates one–from pioneering legislation to leveraging private and public capital, to helping a local nonprofit bring a vision to life,” according to the company’s website. Enterprise is based in Columbia, Maryland, and has 22 locations across the United States.

Enterprise invested $1.04 billion to preserve or produce more than 25,000 homes in 2007, according to its site. Since it was first founded in 1982, the group has helped to build or preserve over 240,000 affordable homes in the United States.

Habitat for Humanity International (http://www.habitat.org)
Program Expenses: 80.7 percent
Administrative/General Expenses: 4.4 percent
Fundraising Expenses: 14.7 percent

Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI) is a nonprofit Christian housing ministry that aims to eliminate poverty and homelessness around the world. HFHI builds and preserves simple, affordable housing with help from homeowners and volunteers. The houses are financed with affordable loans and sold at no profit. Incoming mortgage payments are used to help fund more affordable housing.

“Donations, whether to a local Habitat affiliate or to HFHI, are used as designated by the donor,” Nakia Fowler, media specialist for HFHI, said. “Gifts received by HFHI that are designated to a specific affiliate or building project are forwarded to that affiliate or project. Undesignated gifts are used where most needed and for administrative expenses.”

In November, HFHI began construction on its 300,000th house, Fowler said. It is the 14th largest home builder and the 17th largest nonprofit organization in the United States.

HOPE International (http://www.hopeinternational.com)
Program Expenses: 86.4 percent
Administrative/General Expenses: 4.8 percent
Fundraising Expenses: 8.7 percent

HOPE International is a nonprofit Christian organization. It aims to eliminate poverty through microfinance.

“HOPE’s microfinance programs offer a sustainable alternative to the short-term forms of charity that have often left a wake of disempowerment in developing countries. Microfinance isn’t a hand-out but a hand up,” the organization’s website states. “HOPE practices a holistic approach to poverty alleviation. Microcredit and basic business training enable individuals to build businesses and break free from physical poverty. Clients find that their increased income enables them to provide more nutritious and regular meals as well as improved housing and education for their children.”

They also run the Houses for HOPE program. Through this program, HOPE partners with homebuilders to create housing using discounted or donated materials and labor. When the home sells, profits go to HOPE International and are used to further the organization’s charitable programs.

Junior Achievement Worldwide (http://www.ja.org)
Program Expenses: 80.7 percent
Administrative/General Expenses: 12.8 percent
Fundraising Expenses: 6.3 percent

Junior Achievement (JA) prepares young people for the workforce by educating them about entrepreneurship, job creation and financial literacy.

“Junior Achievement maintains an active vision, front and center, on how we can have a positive impact on the lives of more students – guided by our core values: Belief in the boundless potential of young people. Commitment to the principles of market-based economics and entrepreneurship. Passion for what we do and honesty, integrity, and excellence in how we do it. Respect for the talents, creativity, perspectives, and backgrounds of all individuals. Belief in the power of partnership and collaboration. Conviction in the educational and motivational impact of relevant, hands-on learning,” according to JA’s website. The group’s core ideology is “to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy.”

During the 2007-2008 school year JA reached 9,326,748 students, the highest number since the organization was founded in 1919. “The current turbulent global economic climate demonstrates that young people need Junior Achievement’s programs more than ever,” Sean Rush, president and CEO of JA Worldwide, said in a press release. “Our programs provide young people with sound, practical financial skills which can help them avoid the financial pitfalls into which so many of today’s adults—and businesses—have recently fallen.”

National Alliance to End Homelessness (http://www.endhomelessness.org)
Program Expenses: 92.1 percent
Administrative/General Expenses: 5.7 percent
Fundraising Expenses: 2.1 percent

The National Alliance to End Homelessness aims to stop homelessness in the United States. It strives to do so by analyzing and developing policies and programs that will help communities to end homelessness.

“Guiding the work of the Alliance is our Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness,” Elizabeth Roche, director of development for the National Alliance to End Homelessness, said. “This plan has led to over 300 communities developing and implementing initiatives to end, not just manage, homelessness. The Alliance is unique in our approach of informing national policy and policy leaders through utilizing and understanding the best research in the field as well as working directly with communities of all sizes, from towns to entire states, to optimize the resources they have to end homelessness and to build appropriately from that existing foundation.”

As part of the Ten Year Plan, the Alliance has assisted 41 cities and 11 states with evaluating their plans to end homelessness. So far, 210 plans have been developed across the United States. Congress has adopted elements of the Ten Year Plan as policy goals.

OptINnow (http://www.optinnow.org)
Program Expenses: 87.2 percent*
Administrative/General Expenses: 2.7 percent*
Fundraising Expenses: 9.9 percent*

Opportunity International, one of the world’s largest microfinance organizations, has implemented a new initiative called OptINnow™. Through the program, participants contribute money to small business loans for needy entrepreneurs around the world.

“OptINnow connects people who want to make a difference with the working poor around the world who need small business loans to lift themselves out of poverty,” Cynthia Greenwood, a public relations consultant for Opportunity International, said. “[P]eople can ‘opt in’—for as little as $25—to fund a designated entrepreneur, helping her or him to build a business that supports a family, creates jobs for neighbors and ends the cycle of poverty. As the loans are repaid, the money is loaned again and again to help other entrepreneurs. OptINnow users can purchase gift cards and set up groups to invite their friends or associates to join together to fund a loan.”

Opportunity International has established 17 financial institutions around the world to provide financial services to the working poor. The group intends to open banks in seven more African countries by 2015, according to Greenwood.

*Statistics are for Opportunity International.

Rebuilding Together (http://www.rebuildingtogether.org)
Program Expenses: 89 percent
Administrative/General Expenses: 6.9 percent
Fundraising Expenses: 3.9 percent

Through a network of 200 affiliates, Rebuilding Together provides no-cost rehabilitation services for the homes of low-income Americans.

“There are 24 million low-income homeowners in America. That number is predicted to grow to an astonishing 28.5 million by 2010. As the economic pressure on low-income families grows, more and more families are placed in the position of choosing between vital necessities and essential home repairs and modifications,” the organization’s website states. “[Rebuilding Together believes] disabled and aging homeowners should be able to remain in their homes for as long as possible. We believe that homeowners displaced by natural disaster will get back into safe housing with help from the community. We believe that our nation’s veterans with disabilities deserve safe and accessible homes. Rebuilding Together believes we can preserve affordable homeownership and revitalize communities by providing free home modifications and repairs, making homes safer, more accessible and more energy efficient.”

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast, Rebuild Together made the “Rebuild 1,000” pledge. On Oct. 25 it completed its 500th home rehabilitation in the region, marking the halfway point in this endeavor.

STRIVE (http://www.strivenewyork.org)
Program Expenses: 83.9 percent
Administrative/General Expenses: 8.2 percent
Fundraising Expenses: 7.7 percent

STRIVE’s commitment is not only to place the under-served and unemployed of the United States in jobs, but to keep them there. The organization also works to support beneficial employment policies around the world.

“The founding principle behind STRIVE is to address, head-on, the adverse factors that impact communities and the potential success of their residents—including homelessness, substance abuse, crime, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, and the lack of health and child care,” according to STRIVE’s website. “While instilling fundamental job skills, the STRIVE approach is a holistic one primarily focused on soft-skills training, and the cultural and behavioral issues that are related to attaining—and retaining—meaningful employment.”

In 2006, STRIVE brought its employment education program to Israel through a collaboration with The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Inc.

Women’s Business Development Center (http://www.wbdc.org)
Program Expenses: 80.2 percent
Administrative/General Expenses: 13.6 percent
Fundraising Expenses: 6 percent

The Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) is a Chicago-based organization dedicated to helping women to establish and maintain businesses.

“[WBDC] is committed to providing a high-quality, full-service approach to working with our clients. WBDC services are available in Spanish and English, and include business assessments, loan packaging, public and private sector procurement assistance, classes/workshops, and individualized counseling on all aspects of business development, management, and strategy. The WBDC also provides assistance to develop home- and center-based child care businesses. In addition, the WBDC offers a nationally recognized certification for Women Business Enterprises (WBEs) and is active in advocacy issues related to women-owned businesses on the local, state, and federal levels,” according to the WBDC website.

In September, the WBDC held its 22nd Annual Entrepreneurial Women’s Conference at Chicago’s Navy Pier. Guests included Eileen Fisher, fashion designer and founder of Eileen Fisher, Inc., and Nely Galán, founder and CEO of Galan Entertainment in Marina Del Ray, California.

Spending statistics are from CharityNavigator.org

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