Five things everyone really ought to know about already was actually the inspiration for this list. I thought everyone in international development had heard of Kiva by now, but apparently that’s not true. A former colleague of mine was wishing she could find a way to give to Tajikistan in a way that let her see impact. I suggested Kiva, and was met with total blankness, because she’d never even heard of it. That made me think of all the other stuff I thought was obvious. Therefore, I bring you:

Five things everyone really ought to know about already


Kiva is an NGO that supports microlending. Individual entrepreneurs are listed on the site, with a description of how much money they need and the projects they want to invest in. You can then choose who to support and how much you want to lend. Kiva devotees are passionate and vocal, and the lending experience is an awful lot of fun. Kiva consistently has more people who want to loan than qualified borrowers.

I think this kind of personal choice and connection is going to be important in the future of global charity. Combining the personal link with micro-credit is sheer genius, and it’s something we can all learn from.

2) Global Giving

Global Giving is an aggregator aimed at people who want to donate to global causes. You can search by location, topic, or though a nifty little donation wizard that helps finds projects to suit you (which introduced me to the concept of microhealth insurance). From a donor’s perspective, I love the idea of finding causes to support in a logical way that lets you do research, instead of waiting for someone to come to you and solicit a donation.

From an NGO perspective, this is a great way to gain committed donors who have genuine passion for what you do. For a small NGO, this is an amazing opportunity to access funds without having to invest in a fundraising infrastructure. Global Giving and organizations like them are the wave of the future.

3) RSS Readers

RSS is an acronym for a name that doesn’t really matter. The important thing about RSS is that it brings the content of websites to one place so you can read them easily. I use Google Reader, because I’m lazy, but there are a lot of choices. Just search for RSS Reader, and see what you come up with. By bringing everything to one place, it makes it much easier to keep up with new web content, saving you time and effort. Most of the smarty-pants people you meet who seem up-to-date on everything use RSS readers to accumulate all that knowledge. It’s hard to explain exactly why it’s so much easier to use one reader instead of visiting each site individually, but trust me, it is. Give it a shot and see for yourself.

4) Google alerts

I love Google alerts, which are basically searches that Google saves and runs for you on some kind of regular schedule that you select. You are emailed the results. I put a Google alert on any topic that seems like it might interest me – my current list includes several countries, “public health,” “maternal health,” and several other terms. If I’m not getting anything interesting, I dump the alert. I also have Google alerts set up for colleagues, former colleagues, and anyone else I want to keep up with, as well as my current employer and former employers. My Google alerts are the long-term memory I wish I had, remembering to hunt down information on everything I’m interested in, and they’re my antennae that sense information about what’s new in the world.

5) Twitter is a microblogging site, where you can set up an account and post updates of up to 140 characters. It is a little like Facebook, because you sign up to “follow” people who interest you, and acquire followers of your own. I use Twitter to give people a sense of me as a person, to highlight web links that don’t quite fit in with my blog, and to flag things that I plan to expand into blog entries later.

The sense of community is powerful and addictive. I post the link when I write a new blog post, along with the topic, and a lot of people come over to check it out. People will often respond immediately and send me links they think I will like. I also use twitter for brainstorming – it gives me a chance to ask random questions and get immediate answers from a whole herd of interesting people.

Why I am not giving to Myanmar yet (and some thoughts on social media)

Beth Kanter is one of my heroes and she’s one of the reasons I am on Twitter. Today she asked me to blog or tweet about the BlogHer Myanmar giving effort. And I didn’t. And I felt like a total jerk because, dude, it’s BETH KANTER. And she’s amazing.

But it’s too soon for me to give any money, or ask others to do so. Global Giving has not chosen a recipient yet for Myanmar funds. If you look at their Myanmar page, there is no recipient listed. I confirmed by calling them. Eventually they’ll pick out a recipient organization who’ll provide aid to Myanmar, but there is no chosen organization yet. If I give now, my money will just sit with Global Giving. I might as well have it sit with me while I review NGOs and not pay the 10% fee to Global Giving.

There is another reason not to give money too soon. Some disaster relief NGOs will collect money for an emergency in a location where they have no established presence and if they receive enough, they will start an operation there. If they don’t receive enough money, they’ll just donate the money to another NGO. (Usually after taking their own overhead). It’s a pretty standard practice. If you go to the list of NGOs accepting donations for Myanmar, you’ll see that many of them have no current presence on the ground.

So, by donating now I am at risk for moving it through two pass-throughs – Global Giving and a second NGO before it goes to a group which is operational in Myanmar. (To be fair, I don’t know what Global Giving’s rules are – they may not allow a non-operational organization to receive money. Their website doesn’t make it clear.) [Edited to add: The COO of Global Giving commented on this post, and linked to their due diligence policy, which explains their criteria for selecting organizational partners.]

The best way to give, in my opinion, is to check out NGO websites until you find one that already has a presence in Myanmar, and give to them. I suggest World Vision. Yes, they are faith-based to a somewhat creepy degree, but they have been in Burma since 1958. I’ve worked with them in several locations, and they are very professional and run excellent programs.

(Oh, and here’s my social media thought: turning down a request like Beth’s from someone you respect is nearly impossible. I have work to do tonight, but I had to put this blog post up first, just to live with myself.)