Saturday, October 08, 2005

Habitat for Humanity

Today, the charity of the day is Habitat for Humanity, which I expect needs no introduction to most people. I have been an admirer and occasional donor to this organization since President Jimmy Carter first brought them to my attention. The concept is excellent: help the working poor to achieve home ownership through "sweat equity" (helping to build their own home) and an interest-free mortgage. Homes are built by would-be owners together with volunteers, and the projects are financed through donations and the returns from mortgages on homes already built. As their motto goes, they offer "a hand up, not a hand-out."

I hadn't really done the diligence of looking into the finances of this organization, but it turns out that there is a "parent" organization, Habitat for Humanity International, and then there are hundreds of local organizations (kind of like franchises) that are independently incorporated. I was disappointed to learn that Habitat for Humanity International has a low rating (only 1 star from Charity Navigator), mostly on account of its high fundraising costs (it spends 21% of its $131M budget on fundraising, and 4% on management). This is still within the acceptable guidelines of AIP, though not enough to make a 'B' grade.

Fortunately, many of the local "franchises" are quite efficient. Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles gets 4 stars across the board at Charity Navigator, with 91.3% of their budget going to program expenses. Their annual "Hollywood for Habitat for Humanity" event has drawn on the star-power of the likes of Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams to help increase the program's capacity in the greater LA area. This local organization has built 169 homes since 1990, and has land in development for over 35 homes presently.

On the other coast, Habitat for Humanity New York City has built over 150 homes, and is currently building at the rate of 25 homes/year. In 2004, fundraising took 12.5% of their budget, at the same time as they have been increasing their capacity substantially, with a 20% growth in revenues and 12.5% growth in expenses, and an equivalent increase in capacity to build new homes.

One of the great things about Habitat is that you can not only donate money, but you can donate time. While I have not yet volunteered for Habitat myself, I have several colleagues at work who have done it, and they have assured me that even if you only have a day to donate, and even if you don't have construction experience, that they can make use of you. They had a great experience, and have gone back several times. I need to try it myself someday. I invite you to consider donating money (LA, NY, search for your local affiliate) or your time (LA, NY) to this worthwhile cause.

No comments: