Season of Giving: Favorite Charities

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A few of my favorite charities, along with their overhead costs.

As a kid, my aunts often sent us little cards for Christmas instead of big gifts.  Inside those little cards we were told a goat had been donated to a family in need in our names.  Or an orphan’s housing was paid for the month thanks to our gift donation. I always appreciated it, but now that I’m older I understand how the charities they donated to allocated their money well. They had low overhead fees. My aunts’ gifts went primarily to the cause rather than someone’s paycheck.

I also have better understanding of how my aunts’ gifts helped change the world in my name.  I’d take that over a Barbie any day.

Here are some of my favorite charities to donate to, along with their overhead costs. All of them are 501(c)(3)s, and donations made to any one of these organizations are tax-deductible.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

These people really do save lives.  Since they opened in 1962, they’ve seen amazing results.  Where 4% of children survived the most common type of pediatric cancer in 1962, they now have a 94% survival rate.  St. Jude’s openly and freely shares their research with the rest of the scientific world so that we can see children cured across the globe.

Looking at Overhead: The fundraising organization ALSAC (American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities) actually predates the hospital. It was ALSAC’s existence that made St. Jude’s possible. About 68 cents of every dollar raised through ALSAC goes to St. Jude’s programs and services.

While the overhead costs might be on the higher side (at least for this list) thanks largely to reinvestment in more fundraising, 75% of the hospital’s funding comes from these donations. That is an incredible number, and shows just how powerful those combined donations are. Even with those overheads, the organization is making a massive difference in this world.

Donate Here

Heifer International

This is where my goats came from.  Among other animals.  When you donate an animal through Heifer, you are also donating training to the family who receives it.  When that family accepts the gift, they are not only getting livestock, but also a sustainable income.  They also accept the organization’s demand that they pass on the gift.  For example, if two goats have a baby you will have to donate that goat to your neighbor, and teach them how to use it to make money.
It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Looking at Overhead: About 71 cents of every dollar you donate to Heifer International goes directly to their programs and services. Administrative expenses are lower than that of ALSAC by about two percentage points, while the amount reinvested in fundraising is nearly identical. Combine that with the fact that their gifts continue beyond the initial donation, and you’ve got a solid charity in my books.

Donate Here

Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation

Supporting our service members and their families is one of the best ways to give. These are people that have put their lives on the line, and willingly put themselves in situations we couldn’t imagine in order to fight for and protect freedom. When they come home, we need to take care of them.

As medical technology has improved, so has the ability to care for our wounded on the battlefield. When our brave men and woman return home, they are faced with challenges like traumatic brain injury, amputation, and mental health issues as they assimilate back to civilian life. The Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation has strategically chosen to fill critical gaps in currently available programs by focusing on four key areas that address the ever evolving challenges of our returning service members.

This multi-pronged approach includes the following four core programs:

  • The Military Heroes Fund (MHF.) MHF provides emergency financial assistance for wounded, ill, and injured veterans, experiencing an unexpected financial setback resulting in a delinquent essential bill such as rent, mortgage, utilities, car payments, and other urgent needs. This fund also includes a caregiver component which provides financial support to caregivers for child and respite care, short-term training and educational expenses, and in-home health care for the veteran. Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation also provides one-on-one financial counseling for each grantee. This includes valuable basic financial education, skills, and tools that the grantee can continue to implement as they move towards a more financially sound future.
  • The Defender’s Lodge. Previously, when patients receiving care at the VA hospital in Palo Alto, California were searching for lodging, they often had to drive 50 miles from the hospital to find affordable accommodations. At the end of 2013, the Defender’s Lodge opened, providing a free place to stay for those receiving treatment. The Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation worked closely with the VA to help build the facility, and continue working to help keep it operational. Since opening the Lodge has provided 36,066 free nights of stay at a savings of over $6,000,000 to our veterans.
  • Dream Makers Grants. While VA loans provide a way for soldiers and veterans to own a home with no money down, Dream Makers grants provide a way for them to own a home with a little more equity. They match the buyers’ contribution 2:1 up to $5,000, allowing them to afford a down payment and closing costs. Those who use the grant can apply it to a mortgage from any lending institution. Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation is an equal housing opportunity entity.
  • The Asset Recovery Kit Program (ARK.) ARK is an alternative to payday loans. They provide service members with 0% interest loans to get them through until payday, with the goal of increasing money management skills, repairing credit, and improving cash-flow.

Looking at Overhead: Because PenFed Credit Union covers administrative fees and other overhead costs for the Pentagon Federal Credit UnionFoundation, nearly 100% of every dollar donated goes directly to program initiatives.

Donate Here

Operation Paperback

I talked about this one a little bit when we were learning about media mail and cheaper care packages.  It’s a great alternative if you don’t have a lot of money to give at the moment, but your bookshelves overfloweth.

Operation Paperback is an organization that sends books to our troops while they are in faraway places defending and supporting freedom.  Books provide an escape from the insanity they are living in while they are so far away from home.  The organization now has an initiative to support families back home, as well.  Since they’ve expanded, they also provide books at VA hospitals and USO locations at airports.

There are two ways to donate:  send money or send books. When you send books as a volunteer, you take the costs on yourself. Sometimes, there are special projects and operations that the organization sources specific, requested titles for. For theses shipments, monetary donations cover the cost of book allocation and shipping.

Looking at Overhead: Operation Paperback’s donations vary greatly from year to year. The current average is $3,600/year. Their only necessary cost is their website, that helps them coordinate and provide necessary resources to their volunteers. This service costs them $1,200/year, making their average overhead costs 33%.

Overhead is a skewed way to look at this charity, though, as all of their website administrators and their entire board of directors are volunteers. The primary force of their efforts lies in the volunteer base, which relies on the website. Since their inception in 1999, this volunteer force has shipped nearly 2.3 million books using money out of their own pockets. When they have excess funds, they use it to purchase books that have been specially requested by the troops.

Donate via Shipping Books Yourself Here
Donate via Monetary Contributions Here


Have a favorite of your own? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!



*As a part of my partnership with PenFed Credit Union, I requested to include their wonderful charitable organization in this month’s compensated post.*


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10 thoughts on “Season of Giving: Favorite Charities

  1. Aloysa

    I am always curious to read about charities. Usually we always donate to the same one bu lately I was wondering if we should really branch out. Great post!

  2. Lindy Mint

    Thanks for the recommendations. It’s always hard to know who to give to, especially since these organizations are so big, I always wonder if my money is better spent at a smaller venue. But as long as I give, I suppose that’s all that matters. 🙂

  3. Dmarie

    great selections! my heart goes out to charities that promote education, which to my way of thinking is the only way to promote systemic change to get folks out of poverty. Hubby’s favorite charity is Red Cross.

  4. Anonymous

    Not anonymous — it’s Kris!

    Thanks for the great information!!! Thanks to you, I signed up for Operation Paperback tonight. I have this garage full of good paperbacks that won’t sell at a garage sale, and it would be nice to send them to somebody who would actually enjoy them.

    I really appreciate the info on good charities to deal with. Your blog is excellent!

  5. femmefrugality

    Ahhhh!!! Awesome! We did a drive at the Mt. Washington library last year and it filled up sooo quick. Half-price doesn’t pay enough to NOT send them to our troops.

    And thank you!!


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