Tag Archives: choosing charities

Organization Profile – Feed My Starving Children

FMSC.jpgHappy Friday, friends! It’s setting up to be a hot weekend here in Minnesota (yes, really, we have those. It’s going to be humid and in the 90s). I plan to beat the heat by spending the weekend at work, as I usually do, and going to small group on Saturday. I’m also working on my son’s Scouting scrap book in preparation for his Eagle Scout court of honor coming up in August. I hope that wherever you are you are keeping cool and doing something fun this weekend.

For today’s post, I’m going to share another of my favorite organizations with you.

Feed My Starving Children
Charity Navigator – 4 Stars

I first became aware of FMSC because they have a food packing facility near my home, and we went there as a work group back when I was doing childcare at a gym. I loved their mission to feed hungry kids around the world and the opportunity to participate hands-on by packing meals.

When you visit an FMSC packing facility or mobile pack event, you participate in manufacturing one of three nutritionally complete meal options. The most common, and my favorite to pack, is the original Manna Pack. They also make two potato-based formulas, Potato-W and Potato-D. The potato formulas meet the specific nutritional needs of weaning babies (W ), and people with chronic diarrhea (D), a serious and life-threatening condition for the malnourished. The reason I prefer packing Manna Pack is because the potato powder, the basis for the other two formulas, floats in the air and sticks to everything, including your skin and clothes. It doesn’t hurt anything and it washes right off, but I still prefer original Manna Pack.

fmsc meals

Manna Pack consists of vitamins (a vegetarian, chicken-flavored vitamin powder), vegetables (dry veggie bits), soy* (a brown, crunchy, cereal-like puffed soy), and rice. Volunteers in hairnets and gloves gather around a table to fill bags with carefully-portioned amounts of each ingredient. They weigh the bags, and pass them off to a sealer (my favorite job), who pops the bag closed, removing as much air as possible, and seals it shut using a commercial sealing press machine (the sealer has to be 18+). A boxer (J’s favorite job) at each pair of tables boxes up the meals, keeps a tally of the boxes finished by his tables, and calls out cheers to keep everyone having fun and to let the warehouse volunteers know that they need to come get another completed box.

FMSC’s nutritionally-complete meals are paid for my donations, and packed by volunteers, and each meal costs less than twenty-five cents to produce. The boxes of food are loaded onto pallets and shipped to partner organizations around the world. These partners use the FMSC food in their various missions feeding orphans, refugees, and hungry children around the world. For example, some of Venture‘s work uses FMSC meals.

Packing sessions at FMSC take place six days a week, daytime as well as evening. A packing session lasts a couple of hours from the orientation rally to the closing (optional) prayer over the pallets (FMSC is a Christian organization, although they do not require you to have any faith connection to come and pack nor to receive meals). Children five years and over can participate, though there are rules for how many kids/per adult you can have in your group (and that number varies depending on the kids’ ages). You will have to wear a hairnet the entire time you are at the packing facility, and you cannot wear any jewelry, so it’s best to leave that at home. You can get more information on packing locations and rules on the FMSC website.

If Mobile Pack is coming to your area, or if you live near a permanent facility, I highly recommend you donate and/or try packing meals at Feed My Starving Children. It’s a great experience and a free outing for the whole family (or small group, book club, work group, birthday party, etc.). The organization is reputable, and their work (YOUR work) is life-saving.

fmsc feb 2016

Have you packed meals at FMSC or another similar organization, or worked with a partner organization that distributes the meals to hungry kids? Tell us about it in the comments!

*Please note that soy is used throughout the facility, so if you have a serious soy allergy, you should probably confine your support to financial giving. If your soy allergy is mild or limited to actually eating soy, you can go to a packing event. The staff will put you to work labeling bags or something of that nature away from the packing room.

How to Focus Your Giving for More Impact and Less Guilt

How to Focus Your Giving

Years ago, I struggled to find my passion and my place in this world and in the kingdom of God. I was still involved in helping out here and there and giving a little to this and that, but I felt like my meager efforts were spread so thin, and I wasn’t sure I was making an impact anywhere. I prayed for God to give me a specific passion, something to focus my efforts to multiply my impact. I actually sat down and made a list of all the things I was involved in and all the things I really cared about. That thought and that exercise were part of my journey, and as my passion for hunger began to reveal itself to me, that thought about spreading or concentrating efforts stuck with me.

So I have introduced you to a number of programs and organizations that are helping the hungry, and there are many more to come. But I don’t want that to become overwhelming to you. I don’t volunteer or donate to every hunger cause, and I don’t automatically say no to every non-hunger thing that comes up. So in the interest of transparency I’m going to let you in on what I actually do for those in need. I hope it helps you clarify your mission and learn to say yes or no with confidence instead of guilt.

First, as a Christian I believe that I am called to give 10% of my income to the support of the church (Malachi 3:10, Leviticus 27:30, Deuteronomy 14:22). Some people accept this responsibility but include their other charitable giving in this number, and some think that tithing went out with the Old Testament. They both make good points, truly, and I don’t condemn anyone who sees this differently than I do. But if people are tithing by giving to a different charity or not tithing because they no longer feel obligated, how will the church survive? Because I believe in my church, because I want to live a more generous life, and because I see it in the Bible, I have chosen to give the first 10% of my income to my local church. In my heart AND in my checkbook I am invested in my church.

For us, that’s the big one. But there are smaller things we do on a regular basis or on occasion. We have a sponsored child through Compassion International. That costs us a mere $38 a month, and it lets us invest in the life of one individual. We also keep mini M&M tubes to collect quarters for Feed My Starving Children. When they’re full, we schedule a time to go pack meals at their facility and swap out our full tubes of quarters for new empty tubes.

And of course there’s Food Shelf Friday. Every Friday night (or another night if Friday doesn’t work) my family exchanges our regular meal for a simplified meal like food shelf users receive. The experience makes us more thoughtful donors (aware of things like protein sources and sodium overload in canned foods), and the savings allows us to donate the identical meal. I collect our Food Shelf Friday duplicate meals in grocery bags in my home office. When the bags are full I take them to my church’s food bank. Sometimes I donate it somewhere different. The Scouts and the mail carriers both hold door to door food drives. In October I’ll probably be giving it to another food shelf, as I am hoping to do a tour and interview for the blog, and in December I’ll bring my stash to work for the food drive we do at our annual community Christmas event.

So that is my family’s regular giving plan: tithe, Compassion sponsorship, quarters and volunteer packing for FMSC, and Food Shelf Friday. We also chip in now and then to one-time things like the recent Convoy of Hope event, or last fall’s Hope For Dinner. When we can, we give a little for school and sports fundraisers, benefits, and pancake breakfasts. Those things are kind of hit and miss and I don’t really think of them as giving as much as just being part of a community. When asked to donate or participate in something, my first consideration is if I can afford to do that without sacrificing my commitments. Second I ask myself if it will advance the kingdom of God, meet the actual physical needs of people, or help build my local community, because those are the things that matter most to me. This allows me to confidently say yes or no depending on my resources and priorities.

I hope this post helps you in two ways:
First, I hope it helps as you see many FSF posts about different programs and organizations to know that I don’t give to everything. I like to share about these organizations because it might be one that you want to participate in, and also just to give us all hope and faith in humanity by hearing about all the people and organizations that are out there doing good work for the poor.
Second, I hope that it helps you evaluate your passions and priorities so you can focus your efforts, giving to and volunteering with quality organizations that share your values and priorities.

Leave a comment – share the causes you’re passionate about and the organizations you love!

Doing the MOST Good: What to Look for when Choosing Charities

Choosing Charities

Donating to charity seems like a straightforward proposition. You pick a non-profit that does work you support, and you give them some money, household goods, or time. It should be simple, but these days with social media, awareness campaigns, and so, so many charities to choose from, how do you know what’s really being done with your money? How do you select organizations that can do the most with your gift?

A Mission that Matches: When you find an organization that you might like to support with your money, goods, or time, do some digging. Check their mission statement and website “about us” section, and run an internet search. Get a good picture of what the organization stands for, what they do with the money they raise, and evaluate that against your personal beliefs and what you want your money to go toward.

The Non-Financial: If I “like” an organization on Facebook or follow them on Twitter or another social media platform, I become a statistic that benefits the charity because they can use their number of followers as proof that they have community support. Likewise, if you donate time at a non-profit, they probably track the volunteer hours, as we do at the history museum where I work. This is so they can prove community support for their mission. This is good, be part of that show of strength! I know some volunteers don’t want personal recognition, so they don’t always track the time they put in, but that accounting isn’t just so we can spoil our volunteers. The charities you support on social media or with volunteering take those statistics to big corporate donors, use them on grant applications, and show their boards and supporters just how many people believe in what they do. Every supporter matters, even if you don’t have money to give. Follow your favorite organizations on Facebook, and make sure you track your volunteer hours. Social media likes and recorded volunteer hours do have value to charities, in an indirect way.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to all the volunteers. Small organizations like my museum rely on volunteer involvement. You are so much more than just that statistic. You, in many ways, keep the doors open at small organizations and make the large-scale work of the big guys possible. It is not my intention to belittle the work of volunteers and their very direct and important contribution. I just want to make sure you understand that your time tracking has a value too.

Raising Awareness: Remember last year when the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge” went viral? ALS is a disease most people only vaguely knew of because of its association with Lou Gehrig. Dumping some ice on your head does not help a single person, but the viral nature of the campaign actually led to an increase in donations, public awareness, and the spread of accurate information.

Awareness campaigns have their value. But they require something the public can really latch on to and promote at little to no cost to the charitable organization, like the ice bucket challenge. Television and print ads can have that same knowledge and donation generating power, but they are very expensive. Beware of organizations that use donations to advertise for more donations. While they may be doing great work, they’re limiting themselves by spending a lot of the donated money on expensive TV time. I’m not saying it’s always bad, sometimes the TV time is donated, but just be aware.

My other issue with awareness campaigns is charities that raise funds for the express purpose of raising awareness. If I have to choose between an organization that uses my money to raise awareness of childhood hunger and one that uses my money to fight childhood hunger, I’m going with the active over the passive every time.

Beware the Middle Man: Some organizations exist solely as a funnel to collect donations and hand them out to many charities. Some of these sub-organizations may be groups you personally don’t want to support. And every time your dollar changes hands, some of it disappears to pay for staff, marketing, etc. Your dollar goes a lot further when you donate it right to the organization doing the work you believe in. But I know how it is, some people are “strongly encouraged” to donate to the big funnel through their employers. Good news: you can usually specify where they send your contribution. The middle man pennies still disappear, but at least you can control who gets your gift while satisfying your employer.

So we’ve covered some of the things to watch out for, but how do you know? You’re going to have to do a little research. 501(c)(3) is the Internal Revenue Service’s designation for a non-profit organization, and donations made to 501(c)(3) charities are tax deductible. If you aren’t sure about an organization’s charity tax status, ask. With that designation come certain responsibilities. Charities have to file a form 990 with the IRS every year. You can see these tax forms on GuideStar. Comparing an organization’s annual report to their 990 will give you a good picture of what they do with your money.

To me, that’s a lot of work. If I were donating big bucks maybe I would put that kind of time into picking apart a charity’s financials – or pay my financial advisor to do the digging… But math isn’t my thing, and I don’t have that kind of time. Fortunately, other sites have done some of the analysis work for us. Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance are some of the evaluators out there who rate charities. You can see their criteria on their websites and then see how your favorite organizations stack up. Religious organizations and small local charities may not be included in their evaluations. Ministry Watch exists to evaluate religious non-profits, but I’m not familiar enough with them to give an endorsement for or against their work.

In digging for information for this blog post, the following resources were helpful to me. If you would like to dig deeper into choosing charities that do the most good, please read:

Consumer Reports article, “How is Your Favorite Charity Rated by Watchdogs?”

GuideStar article, “GuideStar offers Advice on Evaluating Charities’ Effectiveness”

New York Times article, “How to Choose a Charity Wisely,”

Wall Street Journal article, “Evaluating the Charity Evaluators”