Growing up in middle class America, I remember vividly the first time that I encountered poverty. As a young boy, my family took a day trip to Tijuana, Mexico. There, recklessly wandering through side streets, I saw living conditions whose depravity can never adequately be captured by camera or pen. But it was looking into the eyes of a hungry boy, who could not have been older than me, as he begged for change that left the indelible impression. Shortly thereafter, I saw the same look in a young homeless girl outside of a restaurant in New Orleans. I recognize now in their expressions the hopelessness shared by many in impoverished circumstances. They were “tired of wishes, empty of dreams” to borrow Carl Sandburg’s phrase. It was my first lesson that hunger and despair are very real, and they know no borders or boundaries.
Unfortunately, the plight of these children is not unique: it is legion. Many of the children in our country face seemingly insurmountable challenges. These types of social problems are not new nor are they ever going to go completely away. But how our society combats these issues is constantly evolving and being refined.
We live in a very generous nation, and this generosity has contributed to a vibrant community of nonprofit organizations. While many of these charities are founded and staffed by individuals who passionately care about ameliorating the circumstances of children worldwide, the ability of these nonprofits to show results for their work varies greatly. Because of this, it is often difficult for donors to judge which charity will most effectively put their donation to work.
This is one of the reasons why Operation Kids’ model is so valuable. Each potential charity partner is carefully screened to ensure that it is indeed “best-in-class.” For us this assessment begins by carefully reviewing the organization’s tax filings, overhead expense ratios, program budgets, and fundraising activities. We go beyond the financials, however. We want to know if the charity can clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of its programs and if it is achieving operational excellence in its given area of focus. This is a hands-on process, and it allows us to become intimately acquainted with how each charity operates – both financially and programmatically. After all, donors deserve to know where their giving is going, and they deserve to know it is making a real difference.
We do not just stop there. Our charity partners are integral parts of the social fabric of their communities. For many who are underserved and in desperate situations, these organizations are able to treat the root cause of their problems, not just the symptoms of hunger or addiction that the rest of us see. So we work closely with these charities to increase their effectiveness, diversify their funding sources, and collaborate with other community partners to better serve those in need. As the capabilities of these nonprofits grow, their ability to meet and solve important child-related needs expands.
Our model is a double-lift. It provides donors with the transparency they need to make important decisions while ensuring they see their Return-On-Contribution™ once their gift is made. It also builds the capacity of charities so that they can more efficiently provide services and be able to attract the support they need. Of course, the real beneficiaries of this entire process are ultimately children in need, the reason behind everything we do.
Christopher Lindsay recently joined Operation Kids as a Sr. Charity Analyst. You can read more about his background here.