The Daily News Journal // December 3, 2016

Amazed by Grace: Help groups do good things all year long

I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy.

I woke and I saw that life is all service.

I served and I saw that service is joy.”

― Kahlil Gibran

The sound of the ringing bell serves as an instant reminder of the season. It is the familiar sound of the Salvation Army bell ringer. Keeping a dollar on hand during this time of the year guarantees that you will never have to pass the kettle without being able to leave a small gift. Many of us give our money, in hopes of bringing joy to another’s life. Sometimes, the drop in the bucket is all we can offer, but many times, as Gibran suggests, it is in serving that we find joy for ourselves.

My friend John has been ringing the bell at the Salvation Army kettle since 1986. It is his joy to ring the bell. “I continue doing the most good because sharing is caring and need has no season,” he says. Everyone I’ve ever known who has volunteered someplace has been glad they did. The Salvation Army is one of many places doing good things.

Organizations doing good things usually began because someone saw a need that wasn’t being met. There are costs involved in running any organization, even if everyone involved in an organization donates their time. Money is required to pay for utilities, rent and items needed to run an office. “The most efficient organizations spend at least 75 percent of their budgets on programs and services (this is referred to as the ‘spending ratio’), with the remainder going toward administration and fundraising costs,” says Debra Snider of Guide Star.

In reality, the expenses of an organization depend upon the type of work they do. The administrative costs should aim to be under 15 percent of their total expenses, leaving 10 percent or less to go to fundraising. When I donate to a group, I want to know that good things are happening with my donation, and I understand that paying employees is going to be a part of those good things.

Organizations doing good things should be transparent about their expenses. If you believe they are really doing good things but don’t understand where their money is being used, ask them. If you aren’t comfortable with the way a group uses the money donated, don’t donate to them, but know they might still be a great organization.

Asking friends for charities they enjoy supporting, I’ve learned about groups I had never heard of — like where my donation is actually a loan to another person. In 80 countries and five continents, Kiva matches individuals needing loans with people willing to donate. Of the great stories I heard, Nathan’s was my favorite: “The ones I feel did the most good were a nurse in Pakistan where health care for reproductive issues is almost nonexistent and a roof in Ecuador that helped keep a young father’s daughter in school.”

Here are organizations to consider supporting:

She's The First:

Girls on the Run:

Chive Charities:

Doors of Hope (local):

The Journey Home (local):

Cold Patrol (local):

Greenhouse Ministries (local):

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital:

Alzheimer's Association:

Donors Choose:

Southern Poverty Law Center:

Boston Children's Hospital:

To Write Love on Her Arms:

Guiding Eyes for the Blind:

Park Center:

The list continues on my website because there are so many organizations named by my friends, and I want to honor them all. Look around you. What has made an impact on you? Please share in your feedback. Caring for the safety of people, animals and our environment, aiding people with medical needs, providing resources for those people hurting or suicidal, supporting the research that will find cures for diseases — all of these are important things and deserve our attention. Through your money or service, find organizations to learn about and support. Looking for joy? Service is joy.

Susan Steen of Murfreesboro is a community activist, blogger, writer, photographer, mother, wife and friend. Check out Susan Steen’s blog at