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  • Erin L. Miller


In honor of Giving Tuesday on December 1st, I wanted to compile a list of my favorite charities. Every year, I choose a handful of charities to donate to on Giving Tuesday. I’m pretty scrupulous about who I give to. I want to be sure that whatever charities I choose, they have the most effect per dollar. I look for ratings through Charity Navigator and Charity Watch. I research impact reports. I find what percentage of the proceeds goes to the actual cause. My goals change every year, depending on what’s going on in the world, although I do cycle through several of the same charities. This year, I’m choosing to focus on COVID-19 relief, climate change, and the civil war in Yemen.

Since as long as I can remember, I’ve carried an immutable sense of guilt when I think of the relatively comfortable life I’ve had. I didn’t grow up with a lot of money, I’m currently saddled with a lot of student debt, and I occasionally struggle to pay bills. But this doesn’t mean I don’t have privilege. I’m white, I’m educated, I have a white-collar job, and I have a small amount of expendable income every month to spend on things I enjoy. I know a lot of people justify not donating to charity because they feel like they just don’t have enough to give. However, it’s helpful to look at your life in terms of your underlying privilege. This Power/Privilege Wheel, for example, is a really great reference point:

I, for example, only identify with one criterion on the outer “marginalized” part of the wheel. Most of my markers land closer to the inner “power” area. Since I’m lucky to have this privilege, it feels like part of my human duty to help those who are less fortunate (many out of sheer circumstance).

Another tool I like to turn to is the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status (often illustrated as a ladder). People at the top of the ladder are the most well off in society (those who have the most money, the most education, and the most respected jobs). And people at the bottom are the ones who are worst off.

I usually place myself around a 7. I’m comfortably sitting in lower middle class, I have a master’s degree, and I work in a respected office job (where, I’ll add, I’m lucky to have the ability to work from home – a privilege that’s even more coveted during COVID times).

I don't say any of this to disparage those who have privilege. Privilege is not something to feel ashamed about but something to feel grateful for ('tis the season for gratitude). Having even a small amount of privilege means your capacity for outreach is greater and you can do even more good. Look at Bill and Melinda Gates. They’ve been able to virtually eradicate polio worldwide just because they had enough money to do something about it, despite having no medical backgrounds.

There's a Buddhist practice that teaches us that everything we have is possible because of other people (from the clothes we wear to the food we eat to even the language we speak). A way of showing gratitude for everything that brings us joy is to spread this kindness (this can manifest in many ways, including smiling at a stranger or giving back).

Giving what you can not only advances the betterment of other people but it also fosters a sense of purpose and community (one of the criteria found in “blue zones” around the globe). Yes, giving your time and money helps others but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a selfish aspect to it. Volunteering and donating to charity also makes us feel good, which in turn allows us to spread more gratitude and kindness.

If you can, I urge you to give (even a little) to those who need it. Below are my top 27 charities to give to in 2020. Some hold personal significance to me while others have time-tested track records of making meaningful impact.


If there’s one policy I care about in 2020 politics, it’s climate change. We won’t have the luxury to argue about political rhetoric or economic reform if we don’t have an earth to support and nourish us. For a sobering and devastating but necessary watch about the state of the planet, check out the new documentary A Life on Our Planet with David Attenborough. For charities involved in the protection and preservation of the natural world, see below.

93/100 (Charity Navigator)

“A-” Grade (Charity Watch)

“NRDC works to safeguard the earth—its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. We combine the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild.”

90/100 (Charity Navigator)

“B+” Grade (Charity Watch)

“For more than 50 years we’ve been pioneers, using science and different perspectives to make the environment safer and healthier for us all.”

85/100 (Charity Navigator)

“The Solar Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing the use of solar and solar-compatible technologies worldwide. We believe that increasing access to this clean, abundant, reliable, and affordable energy source will lift up people’s lives and bring about a prosperous future for all.”

85/100 (Charity Navigator)

“The Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN or the ‘Coalition) assists tropical governments, communities and peoples responsibly manage their rainforests. Healthy rainforests protect against a changing climate, generate needed biodiversity and provide safe habitats.”

87/100 (Charity Navigator)

“An independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to forge practical solutions to climate change.”

Disease Relief & Medical Research

GiveWell’s Top Charities

“Malaria Consortium is one of the world’s leading non-profit organisations specialising in the prevention, control and treatment of malaria and other communicable diseases among vulnerable populations.”

I found Malaria Consortium through GiveWell’s list of high-impact, cost-effective charities. Despite being preventable and treatable, malaria affects the lives of 3.2 billion people around the globe.

94/100 (Charity Navigator)

“A” Grade (Charity Watch)

“501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to harnessing our immune system's power to control and potentially cure all types of cancer. We fund the most innovative clinical and laboratory research around the world, support the next generation of the field's leaders, and serve as the trusted source of information on immunotherapy for cancer patients and their caregivers.”

85/100 (Charity Navigator)

“A” Grade (Charity Watch)

“The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation is committed to alleviating the suffering caused by mental illness by awarding grants that will lead to advances and breakthroughs in scientific research.”

I’ve been affected my mental health through my own personal struggles as well as many of those close to me. Organizations like the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation are finally providing the attention and solutions it needs.

93/100 (Charity Navigator)

“A” Grade (Charity Watch)

“[Providing] medical aid where it's needed most.”

Disaster Relief

100/100 (Charity Navigator)

“A” Grade (Charity Watch)

“Direct Relief is a humanitarian aid organization, active in all 50 states and more than 80 countries, with a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies – without regard to politics, religion, or ability to pay.”

92/100 (Charity Navigator)

“The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) is the only full-time national resource dedicated to helping donors maximize their impact by making more intentional disaster-related giving decisions.”

On top of being a great resource, the CDP also has a COVID-19 Response Fund.

Community Support & Poverty Relief

94/100 (Charity Navigator)

“United Way improves lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities around the world to advance the common good.”

100/100 (Charity Navigator)

“DCI’s mission is to create a pipeline of high-quality services spanning from birth through college or career for children, youth, and families living in Durham, North Carolina... Our work specifically seeks to create opportunities and disrupt systemic inequities, particularly those affecting low-wealth families and people of color.”

It’s no secret that there’s some major wealth disparity in Durham. Home to Duke University, Duke Hospitals, and the Research Triangle, Durham also has some very poor neighborhoods. I found out about DCI through my sister, whose company worked alongside them to teach children graphic design skills.

GiveWell’s Top Charities

98/100 (Charity Navigator)

“A+” Grade (Charity Watch)

“GiveDirectly is the first — and largest — nonprofit that lets donors like you send money directly to the world’s poorest. We believe people living in poverty deserve the dignity to choose for themselves how best to improve their lives — cash enables that choice.”

Food & Water Scarcity

88/100 (Charity Navigator)

“A” Grade (Charity Watch)

“charity: water is a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries.”

85/100 (Charity Navigator)

“World Food Program USA carries on America’s proud legacy of fighting global hunger.”

WFP provides food where it’s needed most, including a current specific focus on the crisis in Yemen.

Animal Welfare

91/100 (Charity Navigator)

“A-” Grade (Charity Watch)

“The Humane Farming Association (HFA) is dedicated to the protection of farm animals.”

Eating meat again after 10 years as a vegetarian was hard. Part of what made the transition easier for me was buying from humane farms and supporting organizations like the HFA to combat the inhumane and unsustainable practices on factory farms.

99/100 (Charity Navigator)

“A+” Grade (Charity Watch)

“Since 1951, the Animal Welfare Institute has been alleviating suffering inflicted on animals by humans.”

“The Mary Ann Morris Animal Society (M.A.M.A.S.) is a private 501c3 nonprofit rescue/shelter formed in 2001 by a small group of local people concerned about animal welfare in Bamberg County.”

I discovered MAMAS through an old coworker who volunteered as a dog transporter through their MAMAS on the Move program. I’ve been doing dog transport with them for a few years and I love it. They operate a shelter in a rural part of South Carolina, sheltering and caring for stray dogs while also transporting them to other shelters and private adopters to give these animals the best opportunity for safe, happy lives.

“We are a 501c3 rescue in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina focusing on rescuing pit bulls and pit bull mixes. We are 100% foster based. Our mission is to: Advocate to eliminate breed restrictions and end pit bull bans. Educate the public about pit bull truth and fiction. Liberate and find loving homes for pit bulls.”

If you know me or follow me on social media, you’ve seen photos of my pit bull Pork Chop. I adopted him through CABR and I’m forever grateful to them for bringing this sweet boy into my life. There’s so much misinformation around pit bulls breeds, and CABR is helping put an end to that.

“Many under-served neighborhoods lack access to basic pet care resources. Beyond Fences works to fill that gap. We honor people’s love for their pets and proactively reach out to the community to build trusting relationships with families and make connections to keep people and pets happy, healthy and together. We believe that a lack of financial means does not equate to a lack of love for a pet, and we seek to spread this principle through a philosophy of understanding and non-judgment.”

So many cases of animal neglect or mistreatment is because the owner simply doesn’t have the means to provide for their pet. Everyone should be entitled to the love of a pet, no matter their socioeconomic status. I found Beyond Fences through my neighbor, who goes through them to provide for her dog. She rescued the dog from an abusive house and, with the help of Beyond Fences, has created a loving and comfortable home for him. They're lucky to have each other, which would not have been possible without this program.


84/100 (Charity Navigator)

“The Human Rights Campaign envisions a world where every member of the LGBTQ family has the freedom to live their truth without fear, and with equality under the law. We empower our 3 million members and supporters to mobilize against attacks on the most marginalized people in our community.”

92/100 (Charity Navigator)

“Transgender Law Center changes law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression.”

I’m close with multiple trans people and I 1000% support any group that advocates for them.

90/100 (Charity Navigator)

“A” Grade (Charity Watch)

“UNICEF works in over 190 countries and territories to save children’s lives, to defend their rights, and to help them fulfil their potential, from early childhood through adolescence. And we never give up.”

Among their initiatives include a focus on education, which has a big impact on raising people out of poverty and creating more opportunities for advancement while reducing population size (which helps in reversing climate change).

100/100 (Charity Navigator)

“A+” Grade (Charity Watch)

“The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.”

92/100 (Charity Navigator)

“Established in 1987, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) is the nation’s largest organization exclusively representing the Black College Community.”

“Ever since we launched in 2016, we have worked to elect a Brand New Congress where power rests in the hands of regular people who are dedicated to building a sustainable future for all of us... BNC candidates are nominated by their communities and have a track record of integrity. They will fight for policies that advance human rights, justice, and equality for all.”

Many people know BNC as the group that worked to get Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez elected. Also check out Justice Democrats.

With thanks,



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