I’ve been slightly dented by the bad news I’ve heard this year. In 2010, more parents have told me about losing their jobs, having a hard time paying the bills, losing their health insurance (this makes me insane/incensed!!), and losing their homes while I’ve been in clinic than I ever imagined. I’ve always had the fortune of financial support, either from my family as a child and young adult, or through loans for college and med school. My entire life, I’ve always had a place to sleep. In this down market, I’ve thought more about my good luck than ever before. I still have plenty of educational debt (like most doctors), but previously while living on educational loans or in medical training, I lived paycheck to paycheck. Therefore I didn’t have the luxury to give to charity. Or I didn’t choose to (that’s another way to look at it). Now as I get farther away from my training, I have more opportunity to give.

An utter privilege. Dent remover.

When my husband and I discussed giving to charity this month, we were slightly clueless about how to proceed. With our busy careers and with two young children this year, we haven’t had (or taken) time to volunteer outside of the institutions in which we work. We don’t have any new experiences to help guide where we should give. I’ve given to my schools previously and to organizations that I listen to regularly or have affected my own life. But others–those who reach out to children I don’t know? It dawned on me I should survey the Twitterscape. Lots of communities (read: medicine) remain skeptical about Twitter. I find it an irreplaceable tool in medicine, and in life. My list for its utility flourishes. And I’m not alone; a recent Pew research survey suggests 8% of all Americans use Twitter…

Twitter can offer an incredible marketplace of thought, emotion, opinion, and fact. For those skeptical, yes, it does offer falsehoods, inflation, myth, and blatant un-truths. Just like any other situation–on the street, in the hallway, or at the water cooler–you still have to use your brain when consuming on Twitter. But one great thing about Twitter is that it’s a perfect place to crowdsource. That is, aggregating peoples’ minds and experience to answer a question easily. When I grab my partners in clinic to “eye-ball” a rash or discuss a patient case where I have some indecision, I often tell families “Four eyes are better than two” because most often, it’s true. Even if those two sets of eyes don’t agree, the reasoning for disagreement is entirely useful in making clinical decisions and in guiding families in a plan. Collective insight, wisdom, and experience will always improve advice in health care. And in solving everyday-type problems. Hence crowd-sourcing on Twitter to determine where best to give…

I sent out a tweet a little over a week ago:

The rationale for me was it’s hard to prioritize; there are incredible non-profits contributing to children, but it’s hard to know where money goes the farthest or who is the most needy. I felt using the collective insight of those who follow me on Twitter could help. And it did. One of the most helpful tweets directed me to Navigating Charities, an online tool set up to improve the efficiency and understanding of giving and one that really helps you decide where to give donations. Any time of year. As we are often reminded, December is not the only time organizations need support.

Navigating Charities has a holiday section, multiple lists like “10 best charities everyone’s heard of,” tips on how to stop solicitation calls to your home, or tips on the tax benefits to giving. Before you give a donation, you can vet your charity, find out the CEO’s salary (if this matters to you) and evaluate their overhead.

Taking a lesson from Oprah, I plan to give anonymously. I remember long ago I read an article that Oprah was one of the most generous givers in the US, but often did so anonymously. There is even an organization, Giving Anonymously, where you can be your own charity and give anonymously to anyone you know. Hearing about others giving anonymously has remained with me. I’m certainly not looking for a thank you card or an acknowledgment for any donation I give. Writing this post is not fishing for it, either.

Here’s the condensed list (in no particular order) of organizations I heard about via Twitter:

  • Northwest Mother’s Milk Bank: Pacific Northwest group working to gain funding to start and sustain donor mother’s milk bank. They are working to collect, pasteurize and distribute donor human milk to meet medical needs.
  • Partners in Health. Founded by Paul Farmer (acclaimed infectious disease physician, author), PIH describes themselves as “providing a preferential option for the poor in health care.” “At its root, our mission is both medical and moral. It is based on solidarity, rather than charity alone. When a person in Peru, or Siberia, or rural Haiti falls ill, PIH uses all of the means at our disposal to make them well.”
  • The Brilliance Project: Brilliance is a world-class phototherapy device that allows both rural and urban hospitals in the developing world to provide highly effective jaundice treatment at an affordable cost. They state, “Jaundice is the number one reason why newborns are admitted to hospitals. In the developing world, barely 1 in every 5 babies at-risk for brain damage or death receives effective treatment for jaundice. Yet, treating jaundice is simple.  All it requires is blue light shined on a baby’s skin for 2-3 days.” They designed Brilliance, a world-class device that utilizes blue LEDs and provides effective treatment at an affordable price.  Designed specifically for urban hospitals in low resources settings, Brilliance can withstand irregular power inputs and requires minimal maintenance.  Stanford University tested Brilliance against state-of-the-art Western devices and found that Brilliance outperformed all of them.
  • SAMA Foundation:SAMA (Science and Management of Addiction) works to support and help children suffering from or the consequences of addiction. “Our mission is to eliminate the disease of substance addiction in youth by advancing research, education and treatment. Our vision is that young people and their families find the resources they need to overcome the disease of substance addiction.” Their co-founder states, “If we’re honest, there is not a person among us whose life has not been disrupted—either directly, or indirectly—by addiction.” SAMA works in substance abuse prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery.
  • Treehouse For Kids: I heard about Treehouse from 3 separate people! I spent a long time on their website. Their vision, “Treehouse is uniquely committed to improving the lives of our kids living in foster care. No other agency in our region responds to the needs of our foster children like Treehouse.” Treehouse serves children directly via 6 programs including help with clothing, activities, camp, tutoring, educational advocacy, and college and career planning.
  • Hope For Henry Hope for Henry Foundation (HFHF) improves the lives of children with life-threatening illnesses by providing carefully chosen gifts and specially-designed programs to entertain and promote comfort, care and recovery.
  • Autism Science Foundation Committed to funding and supporting research that will enhance the lives of children and adults with autism. “The Autism Science Foundation’s mission is to support autism research by providing funding and other assistance to scientists and organizations conducting, facilitating, publicizing and disseminating autism research. The organization also provides information about autism to the general public and serves to increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders and the needs of individuals and families affected by autism.”
  • Parents of Kids With Infectious Diseases mission is to educate the public about infectious diseases, the methods of prevention and transmission, the latest advances in medicine, and the elimination of social stigma borne by the infected; and to assist the families of the children living with hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, or other chronic, viral infectious diseases with emotional, financial and informational support.
  • Compassion International “Releasing Children From Poverty in Jesus’ Name.” The charity accepts funding to sponsor a child, rescue babies and mothers, educate a student leader, or meet critical needs.
  • Foodbank at St Mary’s The Food Bank @ St. Mary’s helps provide food for people who find they are unable to provide it for themselves. “Some of the people who come in have temporarily hit hard times, but many are experiencing long term economic struggles.” Anyone living in Seattle is welcome to use the food bank. They also sponsor a home delivery service for those who can’t come to the center due to age, illness, or disability.
  • Reece’s Rainbow International Down Syndrome Orphan Ministry is “not an adoption agency, we are only a connecting point for these children to their ‘forever families'”  Reece’s Rainbow serves as a voice of hope for these children who are languishing in orphanages and mental institutions around the world, when there are literally hundreds of families here in the US, Canada, and the UK who would rescue them if only the funds were available to do so.”
  • Housing Hope: Their vision: Every individual aspiring to self-sufficiency should have access to a safe, secure, affordable home. Their mission: Housing Hope shall promote and provide a continuum of safe, decent, affordable housing and necessary related services for very low and low income residents of Snohomish County and Camano Island.

If you’re in a fortunate position where you can donate anywhere from $10 to $thousands, I hope these lists help inspire. Peek at Navigating Charities before you do give. Compare charities and inform yourself on how best to contribute to those around you. And make sure you’re aware if your charity is one of the 10 charities routinely in the red!

In full disclosure, I’ve worked for a few non-profits in my time (Teach For America, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Seattle Children’s) and this certainly colors my experience.  I want to give to all three of them. But I also learned quite a bit while researching the lists above. My time on Navigating Charities was exceptionally informative.

What charities must we all know about? Why? Please share where you have given, or would like to donate in the future. Extend the crowd-sourcing.