But, then again, so does the big picture.

I was talking today with my friend Sam Kwon, Vice-President of Justice Ventures International, about how the current troubles of our economy will definitely hurt non-profit organizations.  For example, recently failed Lehman Brothers gave $39 million to various charities last year.  However, non-profits not only face losses from large corporate contributions, but also from average people who feel their financial belts tightening.  Here in San Diego, some of the largest churches have laid off staff and slashed their budgets in reponse to sharp declines in giving.

With all this thinking about non-profits — and how to encourage followers of Christ to be generous in good times and bad (and not just giving money to churches) — I wanted to highlight a couple of thought-provoking posts I came across recently.

Everyone from the local police activities league who keeps on cold-calling your place to the leaders of the One campaign will tell you that every little counts.  It’s hard to get people to give, even when small contributions could actually make a difference.  Sometimes, raising awareness and support requires a creative approach.

The Le Clochard Project by SZN is giving a portion of the proceeds from the sales of their duvet covers and pillow sets to help young homeless people in the Netherlands.  [h/t: LT @ ABC Pastor]

These bedding products are designed to look like cardboard boxes (way beyond shabby chic) — as they say on their website, “Sleep under a cardboard box so a homeless young person doesn’t have to.”  Now we could argue about aesthetics (here’s what this bedding might look like in your house) or effectiveness (a common criticism of the Red campaign), but it’s hard to argue that this approach isn’t at least a bit intriguing.

However, we must always ask big picture questions about sustainability and effectiveness.  All the creativity and awareness raising in the world won’t do much good unless they’re rightly directed.  Like many of us, I experience a visceral, gut-level reaction when I hear about kids dying from a lack of clean water or easily preventable diseases, but I wouldn’t really know where to start in terms of making a meaningful difference.

To that end, Charles Lee posted a great set of questions to ask clean water organizations before partnering with them.  Personally, these kinds of questions are very helpful because they provide a meaningful framework within which I can begin to understand the key issues at hand.

Here’s one key question below (I encourage you to check out the rest of the post as well):

Does your organization test “water quality”?

Reason: Clear water is not necessarily safe water.  There are many naturally occurring contaminants (i.e. microorganisms, major ions, fluoride and trace elements) that can seriously harm an individual’s health and quality of life.  Skeletal fluorosis, for example, is a serious health problem related to excessive accumulation of fluoride in the bones that causes serious deformities in the bone structure and making them extremely weak and brittle.