How Foolanthropy Made Its Choices

Now that we've chosen our five charities for the year, we'd like to put out the call once again: Foolanthropy 2005 wants your dollars!

Do you have $50 to contribute? Or $5,000? You say you have even more than that, but you're looking for the first time to find new and upcoming really good charities -- ones in which you can feel confident about giving because someone else has already vetted them?

Well, look no further. The Fool community has come together for its ninth year to select five outstanding charities, at least one of which I just bet you've never heard of before:

  • Doctors Without Borders
  • DonorsChoose
  • Heifer International
  • Humane Society of Louisiana
  • Mercy Corps

The Foolanthropy committee, which Carrie Crockett and I co-chaired, had an interesting decision to make this year. Given the tragic natural disasters of 2005, most of them related to -- but in no way limited to -- Hurricane Katrina, should we break with our traditional mission and:

  • Focus on charities providing hand-to-mouth relief instead of our traditional teach-them-all-to-fish solutions?
  • Select for the first time a regional charity, as opposed to sticking with our national and international focus of years past?

Breaking with tradition
We quickly decided in our early meetings that we were open to exploring both of these avenues. And as you'll see if you've looked through our five charities, we ultimately answered "yes" to both.

Mercy Corps, which many of us first got to know when its members took to the streets of Old Town Alexandria, Va., right outside the Fool's offices, and asked people for relief money, is the first of our two disaster-relief charities this year. Many worthy relief-oriented charities were proposed, but we believed that Mercy Corps' international capability, together with its slightly smaller and more focused scale relative to the big heavyweights in this field, made for a good "mid-cap" choice for Foolanthropy. We encourage you to visit Mercy Corps and, as the organization says, "Be the Change."

Our second disaster-relief solution, Doctors Without Borders, has won many awards for its brave service to the world. This organization operates under the philosophy that providing medical and life-saving solutions to needy people around the world transcends international borders. It even has its own TV series now, on the National Geographic channel. If your own giving tends to orient toward health care, we in the Foolanthropy 2005 committee hope that you will consider clicking over to Doctors Without Borders and sharing some of what you have with its Foolish mission.

We also went regional for the first time this year, compelled by the human tragedy left behind in the wake of this year's natural disasters and by the scope of the rebuilding effort. Many large organizations are already operating in this space; some, such as the Red Cross, have arguably been overfunded in terms of how much money can be well used in the immediate term. (I don't want to dissuade anyone from giving more to the Red Cross, though, since its work is so important.)

So we decided to take a contrarian Foolish approach. We chose the Humane Society of Louisiana because we are compelled by what has been called the largest animal rescue operation in history. According to the PBS show Nature, "When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, La., the city's human residents weren't the only ones trying to cope with flooded and devastated homes. More than 250,000 pets -- from cats and dogs to parrots and fish -- were left stranded by the storm's destruction. Owners, expecting to return a few days later, left food and water for their pets. But days turned into weeks, and pets had to struggle to survive without supplies or the love and care of their owners." I hope you'll take a holiday moment to visit the Humane Society of Louisiana. Click the link, and give it two minutes of your time -- and a few dollars, too.

I'm also excited to note that Foolanthropy co-chair Carrie Crockett is currently in New Orleans and Mississippi, volunteering her time and her heart for three days on behalf of Foolanthropy. We'll have pictures and a story or two to share later this week, when she returns.

A new way of giving, thanks to the Internet
I was very excited to learn about DonorsChoose this year. Anyone who loves the Internet half as much as I do will appreciate this organization's new giving model, which, like so many of my favorite Internet stocks -- eBay, Netflix, Amazon -- involves doing business in a way that could not have been done without the Internet. When you start diving in to the DonorsChoose site, it won't take you long to recognize the model that we find so compelling -- not to mention worthy of nationwide attention: The site aggregates resource requests from schoolteachers ("need 25 disposable cameras for Ms. Swanson's class in the Bronx") and matches them up directly with donors. The focus is on some of the nation's poorest schools, with the aim of providing kids with experiences they wouldn't otherwise have. As the organization sums up its mission: "Teachers ask. You choose. Students learn."

And once again, the most decorated Foolish charity to date ...
When we find something we like, we stick with it. We selected Heifer International last year, and we've picked it again this year. We like its model of donating animals to needy people for whom that animal's daily milk or labor can help them out of poverty. We also admire the organization's "Passing on the Gift" concept, whereby beneficiaries give away the first-born from that animal to someone else. The best kind of charity, we believe, is one that creates self-sustaining solutions, and Heifer fits the bill. You can read our five Foolanthropic principles, and you'll see that among them is the importance of self-sustaining solutions. The concept that creating sustainable solutions is the truest solution is deeply important to us, and we know it is to many of you as well. The expanding and growing Heifer International is ready to receive your Foolish 2005 donations here.

Possible revision of Foolanthropic principles
One thing we learned this year came from Arabella Philanthropic Advisors charity consultant Eric Kessler, who does great work vetting not-for-profits and generously shared some of his time -- gratis -- to help us out this year.

Eric believes we need to broaden our principle of financial transparency to overall governance. It's not enough just to have audited financial statements available to donors, he argues. More than that, charities must be committed to excellence in all aspects of their own governance, from how much the CEO gets paid to how responsible their spending practices are to how honestly they communicate. Transparency, Eric is essentially arguing, isn't enough anymore for Foolanthropy. Transparency should be our basic expectation for the whole not-for-profit world. It's what one sees through the transparent lens that is the really interesting work deserving of new-millennium scrutiny.

I'm inclined to agree, and I suspect that we will alter or amend our transparency principle for 2006.

If you have more questions or comments about anything you've read above, I would absolutely love to hear them. Please click over to our Foolanthropy discussion board here at Fool.com, where I read every post. For every post made on ANY of our boards in December, The Motley Fool will pitch in 2 cents to be distributed equally among our five Foolanthropic charities. So post away!

Finally, I would like to honor the efforts made by our Motley Fool employees who worked with you -- our community -- on a completely volunteer basis to make the best decisions for Foolanthropy 2005. A hearty thank you to each of these wonderful Fools:

Carrie Crockett, co-chair

David Augenblick
Lee Barnes
Robert Brokamp
Marthe LaRosiliere
Robyn Lussier
Hope Nelson-Pope
Susan Older
John Reeves
Jo Sisco

Amazon, eBay, and Netflix are allMotley Fool Stock Advisorrecommendations.


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