On giving, with thought.

We all survived the millions of emails and facebook posts on Giving Tuesday and some of you dove into the giving pool with gusto. Bravo/a, friends.

But many of us are hesitating, trying to be keenly thoughtful about where to make year-end investments, if that’s on the radar this year, and it can be challenging to find out-of-the-ordinary organizations that speak to the issues that have become personal to each of us.

Our faith communities, local charities (shelters, food banks, free clinics, arts organizations, kids’ causes, you know who they are), people we know personally who are in need — these are ground zero for many of us as we distribute whatever discretionary giving money we have. But if you’re like me, after a year like this, we really would like to direct some of our money to broader causes that reach beyond our own perimeter.

It’s deeply personal and I wouldn’t dream of telling you where to give. But I’d love to spark your imagination by sharing a few of the organizations that are holding my interest right now. They are a diverse bunch and are addressing issues that meaningful to me, but one or more of them might just resonate with you as you ponder where to give. They would all be worthy places to make holiday gifts in honor of loved ones, too.

So, in no order, here are some of the places on my list. I’m investing in them because I find them practical, innovative, needed, effective and smart.

KIND (Kids in Need of Defense) — These folks are working to find lasting solutions for children who are migrating alone (that takes my breath away, just typing those words), working in countries of origin, transition, and destination. They provide pro bono attorneys to represent unaccompanied children in their deportation hearings and work extensively with policy education and outreach. And they support reintegration efforts when children are sent back, alone, to the dangerous situations in their home countries. KIND aims for solutions that are “grounded in the best interest of the child”. More of that, please.

Cristosal — Once a grassroots humanitarian outreach of the Episcopal Church, Cristosal has grown into an independent organization working in the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras) to address the root causes of forced migration, both internal and out-of-country. Full disclosure, I’m doing work for this organization. But I’m so blown away by the results that they are getting through their strategic litigation, community development, research, and humanitarian efforts that I’m donating back to them. They are helping to change El Salvador’s laws to make it a safer place to live and accompanying displaced people in amazing ways until that’s fully realized. You know, so people won’t have to head out on foot (ending up at our southern border) just to stay alive. And they produce some pretty powerful blog posts as in the recent On Tear Gas and Refugees.

Thousand Currents — These are just crazy smart people doing crazy smart, provocative work. Thousand Currents supports “grassroots brilliance” by making grants that “enable the people who know best – those most impacted by food, economic, and climate injustice – to identify and respond to their communities’ priorities.” Don’t you love that? And they focus their investments (grants with, seriously, the least restrictive guidelines I’ve seen, aimed at making things happen) in the Global South on women, small farmers, Indigenous People, urban residents, sexual and ethnic minorities and youth. Just reading their facebook posts sometimes feels like somebody turned a light on in my brain.

Solutions Journalism Network — I’m not a journalist, but I want my world populated with tenacious, truth-seeking journalists who write with purpose and passion. And are reporting on the stories we often don’t see: how people are responding to problems. People looking for, and finding, solutions. Solutions Journalism provides training for journalists, journalism educators, and news organizations. For those of us who aren’t professionals or students, their SolutionsU ™  site connects us to solutions journalism stories that we might be missing in our regular news sources. This is hopeful stuff to me and I can always use a little more hope.

Innocence Project — Every time I read one of these stories - someone being released from prison after serving years for a crime they didn’t commit - I’m horrified. Now working through a network of organizations in states and regions all working to exonerate through DNA testing, this organization does the hard work of changing systems by changing individual lives. You’ve seen the stories. They don’t work solely to free the wrongfully convicted, but also to change systems that lead to those convictions, to disrupt “disturbing fissures and trends in our criminal justice system.” Indeed.

Sky’s The Limit — This is a new, exciting one on my list this year. The digital platform for the Oakland-based Youth Business USA, STL is addressing the issue of youth unemployment by matching aspiring entrepreneurs between the ages of 18-29 with successful business owners/leaders who know the ropes. I love the down to earth approach this organization takes coupled with great use of technology. These are young, some very young, ambitious individuals who face barriers to business success but they are impressive. Impressive. STL is putting great support systems in place, working with practical, proven mentoring scenarios. When you donate, you receive tokens that can be used to vote on which entrepreneurs will receive micro-grants to help get them up and running, with the advice and support of their mentors. That voting thing - for these bright young people with big plans — can be addictive. You’ve been warned.

Sojourners — Sojo, an old friend. The good folks there have been speaking truth to power since the early ‘70s and the magazine and the online publications sit squarely at the intersection of faith, politics, and culture. The words they print continue to be thought-provoking, challenging and prophetic and provide a touchstone for those seeking integrity, identity, and relevance through social justice informed by biblical roots. Sojourners builds common ground for people of all faiths - or no faith - that long for a just world and are willing to work toward it. That good stuff doesn’t publish itself, so they depend on truth-seekers to pitch in. (Another disclosure: I also worked for Sojo at one time. They’re the real deal.)

Distributing Dignity — This is a no-brainer to me. Feminine hygiene products that most women have taken for granted all our adult lives are just not that easy to come by for women experiencing homelessness and those that are economically disadvantaged. And doing without is definitely an issue of health, well-being, and yes, dignity. This organization collects and distributes new bras, tampons, and pads to organizations in 52 cities, and counting, across the country (including one of my personal favs Ecumenical Social Ministries in Colorado Springs) so supporting them helps a lot of women. There may be a similar organization operating locally in your area. This is one of those organizations that makes it easy to see how even a small donation can help someone. As if being without a home wasn’t enough . . .

Maybe these entries from my list will encourage you to explore beyond your usual and come up with an innovative list of your own. Give to those effective local organizations, certainly, but maybe stretch a bit. Our world needs all of us to be informed, engaged, discerning givers that won’t tolerate mediocrity but demand excellence, results, and inspiration from those in whom we invest.

Carry on, philanthropists. And not just at year end.

(Also, let me know who’s on your list. I’d love to hear about them: joan@baumgartnerbrown.com. We can always do List #2.)

Joan Brown