Virtual Voices

Ensuring wise compassion

Religion

On MSN Money, Matthew Plowright cautions charity gift-givers to do some research before they buy a goat for a village in Africa this Christmas.

Charities like Oxfam, Christian Aid Ministries, and World Vision offer Christmas gift catalogs for people who want to purchase a goat or build a beehive for villages in need. Two environmental charity groups argue that the gifts are a cynical gimmick that is doing more harm than good. World Land Trust and Animal Aid say that in drought-drained areas, a cow or goat can deplete farmland and drain the water supply. An indignant Christian Aid counters that they work with local organizations to determine community need and only send cows where there is enough water for them to drink.

The debate raises the question of how consumers can evaluate the effectiveness of the charities they support. Several organizations track the transparency and financial efficiency of charity organizations, but they only evaluate how well the charities manage their money, not the charities' effectiveness. Oxfam is among Charity Watch's top-rated charities. Ministry Watch gives World Vision a four-star rating for financial efficiency and bestows five stars on Christian Aid Ministries. Charity Navigator gives World Vision, Oxfam, and Christian Aid excellent ratings.

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Jill Lacey, editor of Capital Research Center's Compassion and Culture newsletter, told WoW it is often up to donors to research the effectiveness of the charities they support. She tells donors, "Think narrow and deep." Find one organization that reflects your passion and your view of human nature, and then do deep research. Make phone calls, ask questions, and invest yourself in their work: "Don't just give of your money. Give of your time." When you do, Lacey said, "You're going to care. You're going to care enough to ask the right questions."

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