Monday, November 21, 2016

Good Karma: Christmas with a Conscience

I know a lot of us are feeling motivated these days to do something to make a change in the world for the better.

I'm not much a fan of gift guides for giving stuff; this is America after all and I can guarantee that 90% of us have at least a few things (but let's be real it's really more like an entire room's worth of stuff) that we neither need nor use.
My gift of choice (no judging).
So rather than supporting the spirit of capitalism this holiday season, how about supporting some organizations that need your help? You can volunteer or donate, but either way, these groups are working for: healthier and safer communities; civil rights protections; media literacy and position-neutral in-depth journalism; a healthier environment; socially aware art; and general just cool stuff to make the world a better place. Please feel free to suggest any other great groups that I may have omitted - it takes a village!
Education is a huge passion of mine and I love to support organisation helping kids grow. The MN Urban Debate League, hosted at my alma mater Augsburg College, does amazing work with kids in the city to help them gain confidence, learn debate, and become better public speakers. I love their work and they are a great place to focus donations! And while I'm at it, Augsburg College is a great place to send donations as well. They consciously cultivate one of the most diverse student bodies in the country and students always need extra help with scholarships and grants - your money will go far there. Rebound Inc. works with strengthening education and averting the prison pipeline for young African-American men; they're also an awesome place to give to.
Arts Organizations
I am a huge fan of purchasing tickets for plays, museums, concerts, exhibits, or season passes for the same, instead of giving people stuff. This is particularly true for little kids, who usually already have a huge amount of toys but don't often get to go see live theater or events. In that spirit, I definitely encourage you to consider purchasing the three show package at the Children's Theatre Company for the littles in your life - it's an amazing deal. Or if you want to support arts accessibility for everyone, contribute to my favorite company Ten Thousand Things. Their mission is incredible and I'd love to see everyone support it. And Black Table Arts is a collective featuring black artists and helping support their work, which often includes activism and supporting social justice initiatives. Black Table Arts often hosts free events - you can find more here at their Facebook page.
Healthy Journalism
Media literacy is a huge cause I support, particularly in the age of the internet. There is very little to help us sift through the detritus of the web right now so anything that helps provide us with more investigative reports with honest sourcing is a friend of mine. This is a list of organizations trying to do that work; please consider financial contributions to help prevent them from being privatized.
  • Democracy Now is a shining beacon in the current media swamp, providing incredible journalism on vital issues around the world. You will never regret an episode, and it is always available for FREE - help support their work.
  • NPR — local and national. Donate to your local member station.
  • ProPublica—leading some of the best investigative projects in the country, and designing incredible data and tech tools to do it.
  • Center for Public Integrity—Pulitzer-Prize winning reporting on everything from politics to juvenile justice.
  • International Consortium for Investigative Journalists—the folks who brought you the Panama Papers investigation, coordinated by hundreds of journalists across a dozen countries.
  • The Center for Investigative Reporting—they’ve got Emmys, Peabodys, and other awards, plus an excellent podcast, Reveal.
  • The Texas Tribune—pioneering a new approach to state politics and policy reporting, which is desperately needed.
  • Institute for Nonprofit News—a network of small and local nonprofit news publishers, who are usually paying attention to things the big players don’t or won’t.
Religious Organizations
The holidays are obviously a key time for religious organizations to engage donors and volunteers. Despite your personal beliefs, many of these organizations do great work all over the world (just keep in mind that work comes with a message). A sampling of effective organizations includes:
  • Lutheran World Relief: I have some strong family ties to this organization, which was the first Christian organization to provide aid to Palestine after the creation of Israel post-WWII. It's a great organization and near to my heart. They do a really cool gift program around the holidays where you can sponsor wells, buy livestock for farming families, provide families with medicine, or select other unique and truly useful items to give to families in need.
  • Samaritans Purse: If you've ever heard of Operations Christmas Child, look no further; this is the organization that sponsors that initiative, in addition to other acute aide relief initiatives. This is an evangelical Christian organization.
  • World Vision: Most famous for their child sponsorships, World Vision is an evangelical Christian organization tackling poverty around the globe. 
  • CAIR is doing amazing work in America to help dispel some of the taboos surrounding Islam and provide protections for Muslims who are endangered in our current political climate. You can learn more about their mission here. 
  • Afro Deli is a locally owned, delicious restaurant that also donates a portion of all proceeds to community organizations. You get amazing food AND support your local community? Wins all around.
Secular Organizations
If you're just not on board with "the reason for the season," look no further - these are great, international organizations that have been proven to truly give their donations to those in need, and don't come with a message attached.
  • Oxfam features a similar giving program to Lutheran World Relief, and their money goes far - roughly 80% of donations go straight to the causes they're intended to support.
  • If you crave a really personal connection to your donations, consider using Kiva, where you can choose directly the person your gift impacts. Better yet? It's a microloan with a very small chance of default; once the loan is paid back, you can reinvest it in another small business on the site.
  • Campus Kitchens is an incredible group that takes leftover food from school cafeterias and re-purposes it to feed the food insecure, be they senior citizens or kids in after school programs. It's an amazing mission I've volunteered with before and I highly, highly recomomend getting involved. The local chapter at Augsburg College goes way beyond food packaging, and also includes nutrition education, working in a community garden, multicultural holiday meals, and more.
  • I can easily guarantee you that the furthest bang for your buck locally will occur by giving to Second Harvest Heartland. This is another group I've volunteered with, and their impact is staggering. With short, two-hour long donation shifts covered throughout the week, volunteer impact last year alone gave meals to well over half a million people and more than 77 million meals.
  • The Experimental Farm Network is doing incredible work on the East Coast to help revive heirloom species, plant rare seeds from endangered climate zones (for example, they have quite a few items right now from Syria), and help people of color earn property. It's an ambitious mission they perform on a shoestring budget. You can donate and receive seeds from their collection (promised to be interesting!). Definitely check them out.
  • If you believe women's health isn't a niche issue and is actually quite vital to everyone's happiness and success (I do), consider donating to Planned Parenthood. They provide crucial services to women (and men!) of all ages, particularly in rural, under-served communities. They do amazing work and are going to need all the help they can get.
Ongoing Sponsorships
Do you have $20 or so to spare monthly? Then consider participating in an ongoing giving program. The Mocha Club is one such option, asking participants to give up a couple luxury coffees a month to sponsor ongoing aid work in Africa; the donations sponsor community based efforts. To sponsor a child in a third world country (usually for education, sometimes for other needs), give to World Vision (see the religious organization sections above). Or, if you're a fan of subscription services like Birchbox or StitchFix, you can get a 100% locally produced and curated box each month from MinnBox - a truly innovative way to support the local economy. Oh, and each of the products they feature is also eco-friendly and sustainable - they think it through.
Actual Stuff
If you just can't help yourself and simply must buy things for people, consider getting from companies with a strong social service mission. Lego has really committed to supporting social justice issues. Or you can go guilt free and purchase fair trade items from a place like a co-operative store or a fair trade focused website (like this one). I adored local artist Julie Van Grol's series of 100 Badass Women on Instagram in 2016 and she's selling prints of her amazing sketches here. If you want a wider range of options, try Etsy; in addition to getting something original, you can filter to only see products that will donate a portion of their proceeds to charity organizations (click the "proceeds to charity" filter when searching).

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