Year-end pensee series: charity

Like many other people who pay taxes in the US, I am using some of the waning hours of the year to think what worthwhile causes I should be sure to remember (ie, give money to) during the 2008 Tax Year.

There are more candidates than anyone could cover, but here is a note about one that has been important to my wife and me. Several months ago I wrote an article about the Yellow Sheep River/"West China Story" project, which is designed to help poor rural children in China's arid, remote western regions, especially the girls, earn the money they need to stay in school and have a chance to escape the impoverishment to which they would otherwise be fated. For $130 a year, donors can cover one student's expenses for the year -- and in return the students must write regular accounts of the lives, their families, their studies, and their dreams on web sites their schools create.

My wife and I have met students like those our donations have supported, and everything about the project makes us respectful of what it is trying to do. (The kids below are ethnic Tibetans, at a school in Gansu province.)

I mention this now in part to remind people of one more deserving cause (and of the fact that, even during the hard times now besetting the US and the world, there are people for whom $130 will make a bigger difference than it does to most Americans). But also I wanted to mention one quirk of the online contribution process for this fund.

If you log onto the English language donation site for West China Story, you'll see a notice that contributions from US taxpayers will be tax-deductible only if handled by, which in return takes a 9.85% cut. That seemed punitive enough to stop me for a minute, and make me consider just continuing contributions in non-tax-deductible Chinese RMB cash when I'm back in Beijing. But on examination. Give2Asia appears not to be some usurious counterpart to payday check-cashing leeches but instead an operation run by the Asia Foundation to manage contributions to small organizations in Asia. Its existence is one of many illustrations of how complicated it can be to manage efforts, including charitable ones, across national borders.

In the long run, I hope this middleman cut can be avoided. But as 2008 draws to an end, I willingly used the service to support another cohort of students. This cause may not mean as much to your family as it does to mine, but perhaps it will make you think of similar efforts closer to your own heart.