By Michelle Singletary
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 26, 2010; 9:54 PM
Another national holiday shopping extravaganza officially kicked off with Black Friday. But what if searching for and giving to a good local charity also became part of this annual ritual?
I'm not suggesting people stop their holiday shopping madness. That would be simply un-American. The unfortunate truth is our economy thrives on our wasteful consumption. But how much better could this season be if more people diverted some of the money budgeted for holiday presents - gifts that, truth be told, many of the recipients don't need - to nonprofit and charitable organizations?
As the businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie said, "I resolved to stop accumulating and begin the infinitely more serious and difficult task of wise distribution."
I know it's easier to shrug your shoulders and grouse that, of course, the rich can give so generously because they have so much. But don't dismiss Carnegie's larger message: We all should accumulate less and give more.
And might I suggest that in addition to supporting the charities you're familiar with, you consider giving to organizations whose missions are to create "sustainable" situations for the less fortunate. It's great to provide a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal to a needy family, but what happens after that?
I'm thinking about the Bill and Melinda Gates way of giving. They have pledged billions of their personal wealth - but much of it is directed to helping people help themselves. There's the Gates Millennium Scholars program, which provides full college scholarships to minority students with significant financial need. In one of its many projects, the Gates Foundation recently pledged $500 million over the next five years to help establish savings accounts for poor families in developing countries. As part of that effort, Yale University received a $7.3 million grant to research microsavings for the world's poor. Believe it or not, less than 10 percent of the world's 2.5 billion poor have access to a formal bank account, according to the foundation.
"Savings helps families to take the giant leap from reacting to events to planning for a healthier, happier future," Melinda Gates said in announcing the savings initiative.
While the Gateses are out there trying to have an impact on the world, you can do this same type of giving in your community.
One good example in my neck of the woods is the Training Source in Seat Pleasant, founded by Evelyn Kim Rhim. It offers a wonderful job-training program, weekly self-improvement workshops for homeless individuals and skills training for youth who are about to leave public-school special-education programs. Additionally, the nonprofit has a free clothing closet that allows job seekers to dress well for interviews.
"These are life-changing services," Rhim said. "If I just give you some food, you are going to be hungry tomorrow. But what we do is more of a safety net. We are teaching people what they need to do to buy their own food and pay their own rent so they can sustain themselves and their family."
Rhim is hoping to increase funding for her nonprofit by bringing in individual donations. In the past, the majority of her funding had come from government contracts and grants, but that source is drying up because of budget cuts.
This great nonprofit housed in the back corner of a small shopping center was recognized as one of the Washington region's best nonprofit organizations and is listed in the 2010 "Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington," which vets and then connects donors to local nonprofits.
But like many such organizations in my community and yours, the Training Source doesn't have a large advertising budget to solicit individual donations. It doesn't have a glossy marketing package or staff to make calls to donors.
At this time of year, when so many people go from store to store looking for the best deals, why not do the same with your donation dollars? Spend some time shopping for the charitable gems in your community.
There are national databases where you can search for local charities. Network for Good lets you search for a charity using keywords. At JustGive.org, you can search for one by typing in your Zip code.
If you got up in the wee hours of the morning on Black Friday to shop, or if you will spend hours in the mall this holiday season, certainly you can take the time to find and financially support a charity that is changing people's lives.
Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.