My family believes you don’t have to be Bill Gates to be a philanthropist. Everyone has something to share, and every contribution makes a difference. We often give charitable donations in place of traditional gifts for Christmas or other occasions. To help narrow down the list from the hundreds of thousands of nonprofits out there, here’s a list of some that our family likes.
Alliance for Childhood is a research and advocacy organization that supports “children’s healthy development, love of learning, and joy in living.”
Cal Poly ASI Children’s Center is a model for excellence in early childhood education. They taught me everything I know. I love them dearly. To donate, follow this link, then choose “Select College(s) and Program(s) for Pop-Up Menu” as the Designation. In the box that pops ups, type “ASI” into the search field and choose “Orfalea Family and ASI Children’s Center” when it comes up.
The Best Friends Animal Society works on behalf of cats (my favorite!), dogs, birds, horses, and other animals in many different ways across the country. Their goal is to make all animal shelters operate as no-kill shelters by 2025, and they’ve already made strong progress toward that goal. (Did you know two states are already there, and many others are better than 80%? I didn’t!) They also promote public awareness and adoption, oppose puppy mills, support trap-neuter-vaccinate-release programs that support community cats, and run the nation’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary.
Cal Poly Cares is a special grant program for students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who need help affording basic living expenses such as food, housing, clothing, or unexpected emergencies. In an era when more than 1 in 5 students in the CSU system experiences food insecurity, this is Cal Poly’s way of making sure their students’ basic needs are met so they can finish their education.
Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) breeds, raises, trains, and places exceptional service dogs for people with disabilities. A dear friend of ours, Lee Ann Laraway, had three service dogs in her lifetime, and they truly made all the difference.
Cecily’s Fund provides education opportunities to Zambian children who have been orphaned by AIDS. The children receive everything they need to go to school, and are often trained as peer health educators and teachers to help bring hope to future children as well.
FAME: Foundation for African Medicine & Education is a wonderful medical clinic in Tanzania founded by my grandfather’s friends, Frank and Susan. They focus on bringing high-quality care to everyone in the community, both at the hospital and through a mobile clinic reaching remote areas, as well as on training the next generation of Tanzanian doctors and nurses so the hospital can become self-sustaining. They also have a successful health education program to help the whole community learn to protect themselves from water-borne illnesses and STDs. In 2015 alone, they delivered 159 babies, admitted 867 patients to their hospital, and helped more than 20,000 people on an outpatient basis. You can watch this video to hear more about their story.
Glide is an organization in San Francisco that feeds the hungry every day and provides social programs to help those in need, including helping women to escape domestic violence and empowering families to become self-sufficient. Their programs are designed to “meet people where they are” with love, acceptance, and compassion.
GOOD+ Foundation (originally called Baby Buggy) is a group my brother discovered. They work with a network of existing community organizations to distribute baby gear (diapers, formula, strollers, cribs, whatever’s needed) to families in need. They also make sure those donations are coupled with a support system, such as financial literacy and parenting classes, job training, etc. to help families work toward self-sufficiency.
The Graphic Communication (GrC) Department at Cal Poly is my alma mater and a highly unique department. Students study graphic design in the context of print and electronic publishing. It is a beautifully balanced hands-on program, incorporating the art of design, the mechanics of the printing press, the marketing and business sides of the industry, and the communication skills to pull it all together successfully. To donate, follow this link, then choose “Select College(s) and Program(s) for Pop-Up Menu” as the Designation. In the box that pops ups, type “graphic” into the search field and choose “Graphic Communication Department” when it comes up.
Happy Hollow Park & Zoo is a special not-for-profit park that has been a San Jose treasure for generations. Behind the scenes of this peaceful, family-friendly park and sweet little zoo, they are engaged in significant conservation work with endangered species around the world. To have an impact on countless local families and on animals worldwide, donate here.
Hellen Keller Foundation is one of my mom’s favorites. They work to prevent blindness and deafness through researching and education. They work to help integrate sight, speech, and hearing research with other biomedical research already being done and to bring the researchers doing this work together with a common goal of ending blindness and deafness.
The Human Rights Campaign is the nation’s largest civil rights organization working for LGBTQ equality. They work at a grass-roots level for both public awareness and legislative change through education campaigns and advocacy. Their mission is to “end discrimination against LGBTQ people and realize a world that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.”
IBOK: Itty Bitty Orphan Kitty is an all-volunteer, non-profit, no-kill cat rescue group based in San Jose, CA. They care for and find permanent homes for abandoned or orphaned kittens in Santa Clara County.
The It Gets Better Project enables LGBTQ+ people to share their stories and messages of support with current LGBTQ+ youth who are struggling. The goal is to make sure these young people know they are not alone and that things do not have to stay as difficult, or often traumatic, as they feel right now. There is always hope.
LeaderSpring is a very cool organization where one of my best friends used to work. They provide leadership training and support for the nonprofit sector. There are a lot of great nonprofits out there; LeaderSpring’s goal is to make those organizations more effective by equipping their leaders with the needed skills, strengthening the organizations’ systems, and linking nonprofit leaders to one another in a community. You can donate online or by check by following the directions on this page.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society funds research to find a cure to blood cancers. Until then, they also provide resources to support families affected by leukemia or lymphoma, to help fund patients’ treatments when necessary, and to raise public awareness. Blood cancers account for about 9% of new cancer diagnoses each year, about one every four minutes.
Make a Wish Foundation grants wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions. In the United States and its territories, on average, a wish is granted every 37 minutes.
PATH supports innovative solutions for global health problems. They begin with a country’s needs and then partner with governments, nonprofits, individuals, companies, and other existing groups to bring the right people together to generate an idea and see it all the way through to delivery. I appreciate their big-picture creativity and attention to the little details that often stop others’ good intentions from ever coming to fruition.
Project Night Night has a simple mission: to ensure that every homeless child has a stuffed animal, bedtime story, and blanket to offer security and comfort while living in a shelter. As many as 1 in 50 American children will face homelessness in their lifetime. When everything else is in flux, having a “security blanket” and stuffed animal to snuggle, and an age-appropriate bedtime story to bring families together, can help protect their emotional and cognitive development. Over 25,000 of these “Night Night Packages” are donated each year. You can get involved by volunteering, donating items, starting a local fundraiser, or giving financially.
Rainforest Action Network works to protect the world’s forests through education, grassroots movements, and nonviolent direct action that changes the global marketplace. They have gotten significant results. For example, they recently got Disney (the world’s biggest children’s publisher) and eight other top U.S. publishers to agree to choose paper that does not come from endangered rainforests, and that utilizes as much recycled content as possible. This includes their books and magazines, tags and packaging, copy paper in their offices, everything.
RIE or Resources for Infant Educarers, is the name of both an organization and a philosophy. This is the intuitive, peaceful, respect-based philosophy that drives the infant program at my school and many others. Founded by Magda Gerber, the creator of RIE, the organization publishes articles and books, hosts conferences, trains and mentors infant/toddler teachers in respectful caregiving, and promotes this beautiful approach to anyone who wants to learn about it. You can join as a member or donate to their work in general.
Room to Read supports the building and maintenance of libraries and schools in developing countries. They seek to promote literacy and gender equality to help all children reach their full potential and contribute to their community. As of 2015, they had reached over 10 million children worldwide!
Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties was one of my grandma’s favorite nonprofits. As a child during the Great Depression, she understood what too many in our modern world still deal with — hunger. It’s easy to see the affluence in Silicon Valley and forget that more than a quarter-million people in our area rely on the food bank every month for nutrition support. The majority of those are seniors and low-income families with children. Although food drives take place most often around the holidays, the food bank needs support year-round because they feed our neighbors 365 days a year.
The Sensory Processing Alliance works to raise awareness of Sensory Processing Disorder and support ongoing research. They also connect families of children with SPD to each other and to resources that will help their families thrive.
Sesame Workshop is the organization behind Sesame Street. They tailor programs to local communities’ needs around the world, promoting peace through education. Beyond academics, they focus on critical social messages, such as girls’ empowerment, AIDS awareness, peace between warring cultures, etc. They recently added a muppet who has autism to help children better understand their peers who may be on the autism spectrum. I absolutely love their work!
Show Hope, formerly known as Shaohannah’s Hope, is a fabulous organization founded by one of my favorite KLOVE artists, Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth. It began with the mission to help remove financial barriers to adoption, which has helped more than 4,000 children from over 50 countries connect with loving families. Show Hope has also expanded to include a variety of ways to serve children around the world, including the construction of a care facility in China to provide surgeries and medical care to orphans with special needs. You can make a one-time gift or become a monthly sponsor.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is one of the top pediatric cancer hospitals in the country, and they serve children regardless of the family’s ability to pay. I am grateful for the healthy kids in my life, and for the ability to help families that haven’t been as lucky.
Tatum’s Garden was the first fully-inclusive playground in Salinas or any of the surrounding counties. The playground is fully accessible to enable children with a variety of disabilities to play alongside their siblings and peers. The park has been open and thriving for over a year, but can still benefit from donations toward maintenance and ongoing improvements.
Together Rising is a bridge between people who want to help but don’t know how and organizations who are already doing great work. Rather than reinventing the wheel, TR identifies organizations who are working to address whatever causes or problems are moving people to want to give. TR then facilitates fundraising on social media and other platforms and provides 100% of the money raised directly to their partner organizations. It’s a great way for people to turn that vague sense of wanting to help into a tangible impact in the world.
The Trans Lifeline is a nonprofit providing a crisis hotline and other services and supports, as well as education and advocacy, for all transgender, genderfluid, and nonbinary individuals. Their mission is to improve the quality of life for all trans people by building more just and supportive communities. To date, they have answered more than 62,000 calls to the hotline and provided more than $200,000 in “microgrants” to help people through the process of legal name changes and updating their ID.
The Trevor Project is a leading organization for LGBTQ youth. They offer immediate support for those currently in crisis, but also focus on outreach and resources to prevent such crises in the first place. Although they’re not affiliated in any way, I think of the Trevor Project as the “micro” or individual level to complement HRC’s “macro” level legal and societal work.
United Through Reading links military families through the magic of reading out loud together. Sharing a bedtime story with their children is something many parents take for granted, but for families separated by military service, it’s usually impossible. This program restores this simple but powerful connection through an app that lets the deployed parent send a video recording of themselves reading to their children.
Women for Women International supports women in wore-torn countries by providing business and life skills that transform their families and communities. You can donate to the organization in general or you can sponsor a particular woman going through this year-long program.
Alternative Gifts International has a catalog of specific ways to donate to various causes around the world. They also have a way to “host a gift fair” at your organization, usually around the holidays, to help more people see donations as a viable Christmas gift alternative.
ChildFund International is known for their child sponsorship program, but also offers a Real Gifts Catalog similar to Heifer’s gift catalog concept. For example, you can gift a pig, three chickens, fruit trees, mosquito netting, school supplies or scholarships, etc. to a community in need. All gifts are designed to help families become self-sufficient and increase their total well-being.
GreaterGood.org is a list of many lesser-known charitable partners that work worldwide on issues of hunger, poverty, women’s health, children’s health, literacy, the environment, and animals. For example, you can help girls stay in school all month or help train service dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD. There are also goods you can buy, such as fair-trade craft items, to give to someone along with your donation if you’d like to. My family has found many interesting gift opportunities here!
Heifer International is a gift catalog tailored specifically to empowering people in poverty around the world through sustainable programs. You can donate something specific, such as a goat, and then the family that receives it also receives education in how to care for the goat, to use its droppings to fertilize their crops, to use the milk to enhance their children’s nutrition, etc. Some of the goat’s offspring are given to nearby families, along with the same education program, to help keep the cycle of self-sufficiency growing. It’s a fantastic model.
Kiva is a micro-loan program. You can choose where to invest your gift (such as helping a woman in Afghanistan to buy a loom to start her own weaving business to support her family), and when it gets paid back, invest it again! You can choose the investment for your gift recipient, or you can give them a “Kiva Card” and let them choose. It’s a very cool way to make your gift keep going over time.