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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > The Catalog for Giving

Millions of Americans reach into their pockets every year to support charities. But many are left with a nagging worry that much of their generosity is siphoned away by high overhead costs of fundraisers and never reaches the truly needy for whom it is intended.

On the other side of the charity table are hundreds of small but extremely worthwhile projects that too often are lost in the maze of charities supported by the big fund raising machines like United Way.

How do you build a bridge between these efforts and the donors who are willing to give if they can be assured their dollars reach grass roots projects worthy of their support?

A group of volunteers in New York City may have come up with the answer. They’ve produced a “Catalog for Giving” identifying organizations that are working to make a significant difference in the lives of children and young people in the five boroughs of the city.

The catalog provides prospective donors with a detailed profile of 14 different projects ranging from the East Harlem Tutorial Program to the Kianga House that teaches young mothers (18-21) parenting skills, home management and self development.

The Co-Directors of the Catalog for Giving–Sally Berg and Barbara Kronman–warn that all of these efforts are “at risk–just like the youngsters they struggle to rescue unless people like us come to their rescue.”

Instead of the expensive mass campaigns of the big charities, the volunteers utilize the Catalog for Giving to make personal contact with a growing number of donors and people who are willing to give time and effort to the Catalog’s efforts. The Catalog’s goal is to reach $1 million in donations over the next 12 months.

The group’s brochure outlines the needs of the small non-profits in a highly readable and straightforward manner. It is an important tool in attracting donors who have been turned off by the flashy and incessant advertising campaigns that sell charity like deodorant and soap.

But more important to the skeptical giver is the fact that every dime of every contribution goes to the designated organization–not one dime for bureaucratic overhead or big salaries. That fact sets the Catalog for Giving apart from the United Way and similar campaigns.

If there is no overhead deducted from the contributions, how does the group print brochures and carry out its campaign?

Foundations and corporations fund all administration, research, design and production costs for the catalog’s volunteers.

Thus, the Catalog for Giving can say with a straight face that 100 percent of all donations go directly to the organizations that are carrying out the projects. That is a huge selling point for people who are willing to give, but resent that so much of their hard-earned funds are diverted for expensive advertising and big compensation for the operators of the charity machines.

Equally important is the fact that the Catalog for Giving searches out the small organizations that are doing the really tough work quietly behind the scenes. These are organizations that don’t have any spare cash to promote their efforts and attract the cash needed to stay afloat. The Catalog is filling this critical need and, in the process, is putting a human face on giving.

The volunteers at the Catalog for Giving exude a wonderful spirit of optimism.

Here’s the way they view the difficult world of fund raising for good causes:

“It is said that people aren’t as caring as they used to be. Not willing to reach out to the less fortunate. We disagree. Our experience suggests that people yearn for the satisfaction of helping others. But, they are troubled by stories of the money wasted in large charitable organizations.”

In an era when so many of the nation’s leaders are seeking ways to avoid responsibility and refusing to talk about real needs, it is refreshing to come across a volunteer group so optimistic and creative in finding ways to help change young lives for the better.

The seeds that the Catalog for Giving has planted in New York hopefully will grow in other parts of the nation. There are a lot of volunteers and small nonprofits toiling away and providing help and hope in the dark corners of society. They need help and encouragement–ala the example of the Catalog for Giving.