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Resources. The purely economic value of a resource is controlled by supply and demand. This is, however, a narrow perspective on resources as there are many things that cannot be measured in money.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world."   ~Margaret Meade
Why Small, Local and Immediate is Better
At a recent conference involving philanthropic issues, a Mr. William A. Schambra gave some powerful reasons why "small, local, and immediate is better".  Mr. Schambra is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Philanthropy and was appointed by the President to serve as a member of the Board of Directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service in 2002.  His experience and perspective is very interesting and confirming, as it certainly supports the approach of the Make It Real Foundation in funding small grassroots organizations.

With so many non-profit organizations vying for charitable dollars, how does a person know which ones to select?  Some donors will contribute purely on allegiance (their alma mater for example), or because of personal experience (e.g., Alzheimers, cancer research).  But with every donation, people want to know that their dollars are being put to work efficiently and effectively.  Mr. Schambra made some excellent, compelling points in his speech and it is worthwhile to summarize them here. 

When considering which organizations to donate funds to:
 
(1)        Look for grassroots organizations that are very active and busy, and spend little time on administrative matters; effective grassroots efforts are running hard all the time, and may seem nearly overwhelmed with the tasks they have assumed.  Busy-ness speaks to effectiveness in the community.

(2)        Grassroots' leaders live in the same neighborhood as their organization and will take you to remote corners without fear.

(3)        There is no "we-they" divide; the organizations don't treat the people they serve as "clients."  They respect their community and know the names of the people they serve.

(4)        The leaders know who donated what and how much, even down to a used window.  Nothing is wasted.

(5)        Grassroots' organizations will generally not prepare a formal "funding pitch".  If there is any salesmanship, it's never positioned as "if we don't get your money, we can't do what we're doing anymore".  Their pitch will be more in the line of "you've seen the fruits of our labor, if you are able to help us, then great, if not, then that's ok too."  Grassroots organizations will be there before the money shows up and are there after you leave.

(6)        With effective local grassroots organizations, there are immediate and tangible outcomes; the window will be replaced, the second hand bus will be purchased.


Further, by assisting this type of grassroots organization, donors can help provide services that government and large organizations don't provide.  Government agencies and large charities require that the organizations they support supply detailed accounting records and reports that most grassroots organizations cannot maintain.  They simply don't have the resources or volunteer base to create and manage the types of operating data and reports demanded by the government and large organizations.  Instead of diverting donation dollars to an elaborate accounting system, these small grassroots organizations marshal their limited resources to buy the supplies needed to directly assist the targeted recipients (see item 1 above).

But how can a donor verify that his or her donated funds will be used for the intended purpose?  With smaller organizations and fewer controls, there is the trade-off of needing a higher "trust factor".   Here at the Make it Real Foundation, we've sought this important expertise from our partners, most recently the Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD).  It already researches and monitors local communities on a global scale, and effectively supports those charitable organizations that larger governmental agencies overlook or ignore.  FSD's approach is to seek out, vet and partner with some 300 community-based organizations on three continents to build "small, local and immediate" networks that can effectively collaborate on community-driven approaches to development issues.

Through our partnership with FSD, in our most recent giving circle (http://www.makeitrealfoundation.org/2010India.html) to India, we visited and supported a variety of small, community-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) ranging in focus from education to women's empowerment to ecology.  Our experience gave us the opportunity to meet the leaders of these grassroots organizations in person, and to tour the areas where our donation dollars would be put to work.  Thanks to FSD, our time and money has been well spent, since in every case we met inspiring leaders very much focused on tangible results for their local community.  For us, the trip validated Mr. Schambra's assertion that "small, local, and immediate is better".  

Of course, you don't have to go overseas to find these worthy organizations.  You can find many in your local community, perhaps helping to provide food to those in need or coordinating volunteers for environmental cleanup.  If you're unsure of where to start, here are some websites to aide in your search: www.charitynavigator.org (able to complete advanced search near zip code), www.HandsOnNetwork.org (lists local grassroots volunteer opportunities), and www.Give.org (BBB Wise Giving Alliance).  Good luck!
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