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Ten High-Impact Giving Opportunities

December 08, 2007

For all its problems, the world is a better place thanks to the efforts of millions of NGOs and nonprofit organizations as well as philanthropists and donors who strive to advance thoughtful and effective giving.

There are other ways to evaluate the impact of a philanthropic investment, including the application of what, in the for-profit world, might be called cost-benefit analysis. Or, as the folks at Arabella Advisors, a D.C.-based philanthropic advisory firm, frame it:

  • What issues are timely but overlooked?
  • What challenges lie on the horizon that might be mitigated with proactive support?
  • Where can one’s contribution go the farthest in saving lives, educating children, preserving the environment, alleviating poverty, or addressing another urgent need?
  • Where can donors see measurable return on their investments?

To get us all thinking, Arabella has released its first annual list of ten under-recognized and/or under-funded issues for donors.

1. Improving Financial Literacy for America’s Youth -- According to a recent study, 60 percent of pre-teens cannot explain the difference between cash, checks, and credit cards. Donor support of programs that teach financial management is critical to helping the next generation get jobs, stay out of debt, and contribute to the economic welfare of our society.

2. Support First Generation College Attendees -- College graduates are three times less likely to live in poverty than people who complete high school. Providing assistance to first-generation college students is a unique alternative to traditional alumni giving.

3. Provide Safe Water and Sanitation in the Developing World -- Many areas of the developing world lack access to clean water. Supporting clean water efforts can reduce childhood mortality, promote adult health, and help to alleviate global poverty.

4. Combating Poverty by Closing the Microcredit Gap -- In Bangladesh, 48 percent of the poorest households with access to microcredit loans rose above the poverty line. Donors can reinforce and extend those gains to other regions and countries by filling in the gap between small microcredit loans and larger-scale commercial finance.

5. Improving Access to Dental Care for Low-Income Children -- Lack of access to dental care can impair a child's ability to eat, learn, smile, sleep, and play. Innovative opportunities for donors helps to raise awareness of this issue and bring quality health services to children in need.

6. Promoting Renewal in New Orleans -- Investing in the city's once thriving arts community not only helps to preserve one of the nation's most treasured cultural resources, it also provides valuable economic returns to the city's tourist and arts-based economy.

7. Improving Energy Efficiency in Low-Income Communities -- Investments in energy efficiency and weatherization programs can significantly reduce pollution and heating bills by 31 percent for the average low-income home, helping families as well as the environment.

8. Increasing Access to Financial Services for the "Unbanked" -- Supporting community-based organizations that educate and fund practices that provide the "unbanked" with assistance will positively impact the financial future of millions of households.

9. Developing Local Food Systems -- Supporting local food systems reduces pollution, creates jobs, and promotes healthy eating in an increasingly unhealthy society.

10. Facilitating Trust-Building to Prevent Violent Conflicts -- Investments in international conflict-prevention programs can help address root causes of conflict before they develop into full-scale violence.

What do you think? Are these the areas/issues you would choose to achieve impact with your charitable dollars? What other areas/issues should be on the list? We'd love to hear your thoughts.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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Posted by Dental Spa  |   January 12, 2008 at 11:33 AM

I think this is a terrific list and somehow needs to be "broadcast" in front of the public eye!



Posted by Dan Bassill  |   January 19, 2008 at 05:39 PM

I think it's a great list, too. I'd like to see it backed up by Geographic Information Systems linked databases that a donor could search within each of the 10 focus areas, to view what places in the world the issues is most serious, and what agencies are working in that area whom the donor could help with consistent support.

I'm piloting such a system in Chicago where I maintain a database of organizations offering volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring in the non school hours. You can search via several sort fields, and by zip code to see what programs are in what parts of the city. The link is at http://www.tutormentorprogramlocator.net/programlocator/default.asp

At this link you can view maps showing where poverty is most concentrated and where poorly performing schools are most located. These are indicators of where tutor/mentor programs are most needed. Using that information, donors could first choose what neighborhood, then what program (if any). Some choices might be to help a poor program improve, or a new program start, if the neighborhood only has few or no choices to start with.

I feel such tools could lead to a better distribution of services, and resources, if available in all parts of the world for each of the 10 categories you've listed.

Posted by Mitch Nauffts  |   January 23, 2008 at 12:30 PM

Hi Dan --

Thanks for the head's up and the great link. I didn't know much about geographic information systems (GIS) -- okay, anything about geographic information systems -- until we posted this item in PND last week about a Mellon Foundation grant to the College of William & Mary to expand the use of GIS in the school's environmental science program:

This is what Carl Strikwerda, the school's dean of arts and sciences, had to say about the emerging technology:

"The power of GIS is that there are so many disciplines that can benefit from it. Some really exciting research in history has been done by just taking data points that are a piece of land at a certain point in time. On one level, there's no story there, but if you put together 80,000 pieces of land and plot them over ten or twenty years, you can see patterns start to emerge — landholding patterns, migration, racial segregation or desegregation. Much of that has been either invisible or anecdotal at the qualitative level, but when plotted in GIS, suddenly these things emerge."

Very cool. And if you haven't checked out Dan's application of GIS, I urge you to.

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