Saturday, November 28, 2009

Featured Charity: Operation Smile

A good friend of mine had twin boys several years ago. Both were good-looking and healthy with one exception: one of the boys had a cleft lip and pallet. A cleft is an opening in the lip, the roof of the mouth or the soft tissue in the back of the mouth. This little guy had all three. It is painful look at and, if untreated, has life-long consequences. Surgery provides excellent results but many of the 200,000+ children born each year with a severe cleft condition live in areas where their parents can’t afford to give them this essential surgery.

Operation Smile touches many of these lives directly by providing free surgeries to repair cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities for children around the globe. And they address a big problem since clefting occurs in approximately 1 per 500-700 births, the ratio varying considerably across geographic areas and ethnic groupings.

Looking through the “before” pictures of these children, it’s easy to imagine the consequences if untreated. Ear disease and dental problems occur frequently, as do problems with proper speech development. Children may have difficulty eating, speaking, socializing, and simply smiling. A child’s very life and livelihood are threatened. They are shunned and rejected. They need help.

Operation Smile is able to perform a 45 minute cleft lip surgery for only $240, saving these innocent children from a lifetime of shame. The Organization has more than 4,000 credentialed medical volunteers who have performed over 135,000 surgeries since 1982.

Operation Smile also conducts international training programs which empower their partner countries to treat more children on their own. They support medical diplomacy and research to find the root cause of clefting.

I believe in the work of Operation Smile-I’ve seen the impact of this condition first hand. My friend’s son endured three difficult surgeries before he was 18 months old. Though these surgeries are tough for both family and child, it’s difficult to imagine what life would have been like without it. We at TisBest support Operation Smile’s work in making this dream a reality for children around the globe.

Chad Edwards
Manager, Charity and Community Relations

TisBest Philanthropy

Black Friday Recap

While this is not normally a news site, we’re happy to report that no one was trampled to death during yesterday’s “Black Friday” shopping excesses. Your intrepid TisBest reporters dutifully scoured the newspapers and online sites for pictures of boot prints on faces and blood-drenched T-shirts at Macy’s, but no, there were none to be found. Nobody’s life was squeezed out of them in the pursuit of this year’s ‘gotta-have-it’ electronic item, this month’s “can’t-live-without-it” plush toy, or the decade’s only “shoes-to-die-for.” Perhaps some dignity was lost, but gratefully, not a life.
There was, however, reported shoving, jostling, bumping and pushing at malls and shopping outlets around the country as people queued up to purchase the PERFECT GIFTS that recipients will enjoy for several minutes before pushing them to the bottom of their sock drawers or exiling them to that special storage place in the garage.
Police say a Wal-mart store in California was closed for several hours before dawn after some Black Friday shoppers began fighting over bargain merchandise. Police herded customers into a parking lot until small groups were released for shopping.
Meanwhile, charities across the U.S. reported zero arrests due to assaults among charity gift card shoppers.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kiva Is Not A Four-Letter Word

Yesterday in the New York Times was an article about Kiva and its lending practices. NYT: The Fiction of Kiva's Loans. Kiva is famous for making direct connection between ordinary citizens and recipients of microloans. If I have $30, for example, I can search on Kiva for a needy entrepreneur who can use my $30 to expand her llama wool hat line. However, the article points out that when I make that loan on Kiva to “Maria,” it is not the case that “Maria” actually receives my money; and in fact it is not even the case that “Maria” receives any money at all from Kiva. This is nothing new - it is how Kiva always worked - but after the gig on Oprah, Kiva was so popular that no one wanted to see the truth of it.

Kiva actually runs a great program and raises a lot of money for microfinance. I think Kiva deserves admiration for personalizing the connection between donor and recipient. The personalized philanthropy run by Kiva is good for introducing people to philanthropy. And I hope that donors introduced by Kiva will eventually graduate from Kiva’s personalized direct philanthropy to a more mature organizational-level philanthropy.

Children start out with fairy tales and imaginary friends in order to make sense of the world; later in life the children mature, and while the fairy tales and imaginary friends continue as metaphors for the world, the world itself becomes that which is lived in and understood. Similarly, Kiva provides a fictional connection between giving and creating change in the world. With Kiva, donors can see, feel and appreciate the impact of their giving. But when Kiva donors are ready to mature in their philanthropy, it is time to move beyond the fiction of giving to “Maria” and to give in general - to organizations - based on the leadership, track record and vision of the organizations. Paul Shoemaker makes the point for organizational-level-support well in this post on the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Kiva should not be criticized because its loans are fictional. The fictional loans of Kiva are good, just as children’s fairy tales are good. Many donors introduced to philanthropy through Kiva will mature and become real philanthropists, supporting the organizations that work hard every day to build a better world. Let’s celebrate Kiva for what it is - a good and powerful portal to philanthropy.

Erik Marks
Founder, TisBest Philanthropy

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Featured Charity: Covenant House

It has been far too long since our last "Spotlight" post, especially considering the caliber of the 250 National Charities and the list of amazing local charities that is growing daily from across the nation!

We are starting a new series and are really excited to kick it off with a post about the work of one of our national partners: Covenant House.

Covenant House reaches out to a population that, here in Seattle, we most often see in abandoned doorways. Dirty, slumped, sad, cold, wet. And young, really young. They should be playing, learning, figuring out their future, figuring out the world. But they're not. Who knows the reason. Who cares the reason. They are not culpable for being there. They need help.

Covenant House steps up and helps. They focus on homeless kids. They give the kids an ear to talk to, a warm room, a meal, space to think things through. The stories on their website will bring tears to your eyes:

o I'm tired, I'm so tired. I never thought in a million years that this was the way my life was going to be.

o I told my mom we'd still make it, and I took care of her. I stopped going to school so I could help her. I did my best. But it wasn’t enough.

o All I was looking for was a bed, but I found a haven. Covenant House is different than other shelters. It’s like a home. There are lots of ‘parents’ here….
Here is one such story: at 16 years old, Matt had been beaten senseless by a gang, was in trouble with the law, and trying to recover from a 3 month coma induced by the beating. He found Covenant House and was transformed. Today he volunteers to help other kids: “The kids sit there and listen to me, and shake my hand. I’m doing God’s job. That’s the best I could do in life, to give the message of hope to other kids.”

Covenant House runs multiple programs in cities across the US - a crisis hotline, shelters, transitional housing, jobs training - and the Outreach Van, a program that reaches out and offers help where the kids need it, right on the street. Volunteers look for homeless kids, give them a sandwich, offer to talk. It’s so simple and it is exactly what that cold, hungry and scared 15 year old kid needs.

We at TisBest Philanthropy heartily applaud Covenant House for their work and hope you will too. If you give them $20, that can hand out 20 sandwiches to kids on the street. That sandwich is the first step a kid needs to reach shelter, counseling, a future, and maybe even an M.D. like “Joe” did. Simple and high impact. Thank you Covenant House for your work!

-Erik and Chad