Franks, Dawn

Dawn Franks

If asked to make a choice, which one would you choose? Write a check to the local food bank or a national organization with multiple programs working to end all poverty. Before you answer, consider this almost unrelated question.

What color is a zebra? Did you say white with black stripes? Not so, according to recent genetic and embryologic research. Of course, the idea of black on white made perfect sense to me in elementary school since it was easier to draw black stripes on a white piece of paper. But what seemed so simple in childhood has proved wrong, at least for the moment.

Today it is believed zebras are black and the white stripes are an addition, all on top of the zebra’s dark color. Researchers tell us the zebra’s black color is the result of pigment activation and the white stripes from a lack of pigment.

Now back to our check-writing question.

Deciding whether the best answer is to write a check to the local food bank or give to a national organization with multiple programs is a challenge. Your experience may lead you to conclude one way is better than another. In reality, yesterday’s best answer may be different today.

The answer to the zebra stripes question changed with research and so will the answers on how to end poverty.

Can a donor give to feed someone today and ignore the hard work required to end poverty? Does the donor have a chance at making a difference when giving to the long-term fight to end poverty? President Ronald Reagan once said, “We waged war on poverty, and poverty won.”

Many have gone on to continue the war on poverty, in spite of the president’s 1987 declaration. Large and small nonprofit organizations are in the fight. Whether in America, India or Africa, the thread of hunger runs through it all.

Heartland Alliance, one of the world’s leading anti-poverty organizations, “works in communities in the U.S. and abroad serving those who are homeless, living in poverty, or seeking safety.”

Or, World Vision, a global Christian humanitarian organization, describes itself as tackling the causes of poverty in communities, helping children and families reach their full potential.

Here in our corner of the world, the East Texas Human Needs Network aims to end poverty through collective action. According to their website, they envision a community with equitable access for all, committed to the idea that “given equity and opportunity all people can reach their full potential.”

We are fortunate to have great local organizations like the East Texas Food Bank, which addresses food insecurity across 26 counties; PATH, which provides immediate assistance for low-income families and individuals; and a small pantry like the North East Texas Benevolence in Noonday that primarily serves the south end of Smith County. You can think of many other organizations right here on the front line of poverty in East Texas.

The challenge we face as donors is where to give limited resources or where to make significant gifts for equally significant impact.

Where and how you give stems from your passion, ideas and how you define the difference only you can make.

To give well, ask questions about local organizations. Are they effective? Are you confident about board leadership and financial stability? Do they send updates?

For national organizations working across America and internationally, time will be required to do additional research. Are they transparent about the cost of fundraising and management? Do they focus on immediate need or the long-term work?

To make a significant gift aimed at significant impact means time spent to explore possibilities through dialogue with development and leadership staff at large and small organizations.

The cry to end poverty deserves our attention if we are ever to make it a better place for everyone. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of “The Black Swan” and “Skin in the Game,” says we have the highest chance at success by almost any action. That’s how we learn so that poverty ends.

Since all actions matter, all donations have some impact. Give local, give national and international. Be intentional. That’s how we end poverty.

Dawn Franks, CEO of Your Philanthropy, offers advising services to families, businesses and foundations to enhance the giving experience and maximize impact. She writes a blog, the YP Journal, at Comments and questions are welcome. Send to

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