Philip Greenspun has some interesting thoughts: http://philip.greenspun.com/non-profit/ and http://philip.greenspun.com/materialism/early-retirement/
It would be pretty frustrating if you quickly did a sizeable donation (sizable compared to the norm for that charity) and find out a month later about some scandal, or how only a small portion of what you thought was a donation really was a donation etc... you would just get on with life, but it would innoculate you against further causes in future which is a loss for everyone.
So good advice, think of it as an investment (in terms of dilligence, time etc).
That and giving stupendous tips and totally making someones day, that must be a whole lot of fun.
I grew up the child of missionaries in Central America in the 70's and 80's. My parents ran a school for Hondurans during a time when 1 out of 100 kids graduated from High School. Half the students paid tuition and half were scholarship students.
In 1997, my parents went back to Honduras to help with the disaster relief after a hurricane destroyed much of the Honduran infrastructure.
And over the course of 6 months they were there, they had dozens and dozens of former students find them after hearing that they were in the country, and they stopped by to say "thank you". Those former students were now Doctors, Lawyers, Teachers, Company owners etc...
So, I'd disagree rather heartily with the idea that charity increases dependency.
I think that the good kind of charitable giving is exactly what your parents did, going and teaching a valuable skill that others can use to help themselves. I guess it foes back to the "education is the key" mantra that so many people tout, but it's true.
So while I disagree with your post and I believe that many, if not most, of charitable donations are poorly spent, siphoned off by bureaucracy, or otherwise wasted, teaching people skills is a type of charity that I would support.
Though the model you post about sounds like it was actually quasi-charity, as students had to pay for the classes. This I believe is the best of both worlds, as it allows do-gooders (your parents and other donors who supported the program) to do good, but it also requires sacrifice from the student and their families, which builds character and makes it more likely that the gift will be recognized for what it is and appreciated - and that the person will go and do likewise for others.
From my iPhone - excuse typos etc
Really? I'd be interested to hear why you think that. Are you speaking from personal experience? Have you been involved with different charities and been dismayed or shocked when you looked at how poorly run or wasteful they were?
I gave just one example of what my parents did. But, I was surrounded by people that worked for Christian missionary agencies, and non-religious organizations overseas while growing up. They all did a wide variety of things from straight religious work, education, running hospitals, building houses, schools, wells, teaching better agricultural techniques, etc...
All of that was funded by donations to the non-profits that they were working for. If you want to call that other work "quais-charity" I guess that's up to you. But, I've been involved in the grass roots with many different non-profit's and that's pretty much what the vast majority of them do.
I can't think of a single organization out of the dozens that I personally interacted with that simply handed out cash to people.
Haiti population graph: http://www.google.com/publicdata?ds=wb-wdi&met=sp_pop_to...
Haiti Unemployment: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Haitiunemployment.GIF
Haiti aid: (for relative scale of aid) http://www.devex.com/articles/haiti-aid-facts
USA GDP graph: http://www.google.com/publicdata?ds=wb-wdi&met=ny_gdp_mk...
I have read or heard of a number of cases where "do-gooders" only make the situation worse.
For example, after the genocide in Rwanda, the UN set up refugee camps in neighboring Congo to help the refugees. Unfortunately, the refugee camps mainly ended up helping the people who were responsible for killings. They would take refuge there, control the food supply and then use their power to keep on terrorizing people.
Many charity projects are also extremely tough to know if they will work. An example is a story I heard about an aid project in a small village in a developing country. The project's goal was to install a well for the village to use as people (mainly women) would need to walk 2 hours each way every day to the nearest water supply. The project was well thought out and created a sense of ownership amongst the local people. After a number of weeks, the well was completed and there was a big celebration. Several weeks later, the aid organization came back to do a follow up. To their shock, they found that the women were still walking miles each day to get water rather than using the well. When they asked the women why they were doing this, the women responded "We used the well for a few days but then we realised that walking to get water was the only time during the day for us women to bond and talk amongst ourselves."
Another example is that when malaria nets are given away only a small percentage of the nets will actually be used. However, if people in a village are educated about the benefits of malaria nets and then given the opportunity to buy a net for $1, even if $1 might be a day's pay, the nets have a remarkable high-use rate. People are similar no matter where you go - if you get something for free, you value it less than if you have to make a decision with your earnings. You may say that is a good case of charity but if they are selling the nets, it sounds more like a business rather than charity.
A lot of aid sent to developing countries is siphoned off by bureaucrats and government officials thereby making them more rich and powerful and less accountable to their own people. If a government is getting a substantial sum of money from foreign donors, accountability then goes to those foreign donors, not the people of the country.
Over $1 trillion dollars in aid has been distributed to African countries in the past half century or so and what is the result of that? Are many places really better off because of that charity?
Mobile phones are completely changing the way business is done in developing countries. I can't remember the exact study but there is a correlation between the number of mobile users in a developing region and the GDP growth. I believe that the availability of mobile phones at competitive rates (not government controlled) are probably doing more to help countries develop than many aid projects. Landlines in many countries have been government regulated and painfully inefficient. When I was in Kenya, my host family received a visit from the government-controlled telecom company to fix their landline. They had been waiting four months for them to show up.
In your case, with the schools, I think that is an example of a good case of charity. However, many charities and aid organizations are under pressure to show results in X number of months rather than in X number of decades. Many decisions about aid projects are not even made in the areas themselves but are made back at the head offices or at the government level in places with completely different realities.
As far as I know the best organisation focusing on the effectiveness of charities is www.givewell.net. Might be a good startinpoint, even if you are only donating small amounts (all their research is available online for free).
Off-topic, but still. Did you use speech recognition?
Since I can't delete/edit my original comment any more, here is what I intended to write:
"Yes, it’s difficult but by no mean impossible if you are willing to invest some time an thought.
As far as I know the best organisation focusing on the effectiveness of charities is www.givewell.net. Might be a good startingpoint, even if you are only donating small amounts (all their research is available online for free)."