Public Charities Around The World

By Charles Anderson

Every year, millions of people help the disadvantaged. There are organizations that help the poor with food and housing, that seek to raise public awareness about an environmental threat, or that rescue animals. Today there are both public charities and private ones.

A charity is an organization that works for the common good. Today there is usually no gain in return for these services, but this was not always the case. Although the earliest charities created in London in the 18th century asked for nothing in return, some later organizations did much good while earning a return on investment for their supporters. The first recognized groups operating outside the church sought to help the poor in London, such as abandoned children and girls forced into prostitution in order to survive.

The first effort was the Foundling Hospital, which took abandoned children off the streets of the city and sought to give them food, shelter, and skills that would help them as adults. The Magdalen Hospital hoped to rescue girls from prostitution and set them on the path to a better life. Others gave families land to grow food on, since wages were woefully inadequate.

A charity can feed the poor, save feral animals in the city, preserve land for future generations and for wildlife, dig wells for villages without clean water, build hospitals or clinics, or provide other kinds of aid. An educational organization can function as a non-profit. In America, the IRS tax code determines the status of a charitable organization. Other countries also regulate beneficent organizations; each region has different requirements that must be met to qualify for exemption to taxes or regulations.

In the US, the IRS sets the qualifications of an organization that makes it public. Such a charity will have many donors, rather than one (like one wealthy philanthropist or a corporation). It will fulfill its mission directly rather than funding other groups. Its mission could be preserving open space, helping women start businesses, employing the handicapped, supporting libraries, endowing colleges and universities, or helping drug addicts to recovery.

Public groups get the money they need from individuals, from the government, and from grants given by private groups. If an entity is non-profit, as most are, it pays no taxes. Scams and greed abound in this arena, but much good is done by reputable organizations.

Even with IRS attempts to make sure that this program is not used as a tax dodge, there is much room for legal siphoning off of funds, outright fraud, and mismanagement. If people want to make sure their gifts are used effectively, they can check with agencies that evaluate charitable entities and rate them. If a large amount goes to administration rather than to the field, the entity has huge bank balances, or the benefits are small, they may choose to give elsewhere.

A charity may work in a certain area, like the Appalachian Mountains where many live in poverty or among the Native American tribes. Others are international, like Feed The Poor or the World Wildlife Association. Some are targeted to certain segments of the population, like those that provide scholarships, while others, like the Salvation Army, serve all who are in need. Some have political clout, while others work in obscurity.

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