One thing that often keeps people from donating money to charity is the feeling that their donation, however big it may be, won't make much of a difference in the fight against a huge problem such as AIDS, cancer, hunger, or poverty. And if you only have a small amount of money to give, seeing the tangible effect your donation is having on someone's life can be more satisfying than giving to a big cause.
Keith Taylor, the founder of Modest Needs.org, was the beneficiary of several of these small, quiet donations during what he calls his indentured servitude as a graduate student in medieval English literature. Years later, he began thinking about how different his life would have been if he hadn't gotten the assistance he needed, and he decided to do the same thing for other people. He cut his own monthly expenses and put up a small website dedicated to giving small amounts of money to otherwise financially self-sufficient people who had short-term emergencies.
"None of the people who helped me had any money to spare at all, but they did it," says Taylor. "The idea for the site was so simple, I assumed it would have been done before. Very quickly, people I didn't know demanded that they be able to donate too, and here we are."
In the last six years, Modest Needs has funded more than 4,200 grants - usually a couple of hundred dollars apiece. The requests for money run the gamut from someone looking for help paying off a motorized wheelchair to a family that needs new tires for its car. Taylor's staff does a load of due diligence on each request, checking out employment records, income levels, and whether the family is receiving any public assistance. The site's donors then can allocate their own points - which equate to the dollars they've donated - to whichever applicants they see fit. Once an applicant has 100 percent of the points needed for funding, Modest Needs pays the applicant's bill directly. Last year the site funded nearly $750,000 in grants.
"The generosity of people still amazes me," says Taylor. "It's a wonderful thing."