“I am going to college. Can you pay?”
My favorite charity in the last few years has been Donors Choose. It has the shopping-mall allure of those microcredit charities where you get to choose whom you fund—the Congolese tilapia seller? the Ecuadorian photographer?—plus how can you not love the idea of sending money directly to cool classroom projects? I will say that students waste too much time writing thank-you notes to each donor even though I try to say “Don’t bother,” and you should look at each teacher’s request PDF, where you might see that “Fun math manipulatives!” are just materials for the overhead projector.
Now there is a similar resource for funding students’ college education, called CO-Fund, out of Brown University. (The CO stands for “college opportunity.”) The project is new—there are only a few students up on the site—and intriguing. High school students who need money for college post personal pleas and tell about themselves, with video. It feels a little eerie, as if orphans made a website advertising individually and directly to prospective adoptive parents, and I am not sure why people this talented, engaging and broke can’t get enough financial aid through the regular channels. But moderated person-to-person giving seems to be the trend, and for good reason—it probably feels more satisfying to know exactly whom you are helping than to send off a check to United Negro College Fund. (Not that you shouldn’t do that too.)