Via a comment on MetaFilter, I just learned about the levels of tzedakah, which I'll copy here from Wikipedia because I found it interesting:

  1. Giving a poor person work (or loaning him money to start a business) so he will not have to depend on charity. This is because the person is now free from having to rely on charity. The giver has not just helped the recipient for the short while, but instead for the rest of their life. There are four sub-levels to this:
    1. Giving a poor person work.
    2. Making a partnership with them (this is lower than work, as the recipient might feel he doesn't put enough into the partnership).
    3. Giving a loan.
    4. Giving a gift.
  2. Giving charity anonymously to an unknown recipient.
  3. Giving charity anonymously to a known recipient.
  4. Giving charity publicly to an unknown recipient.
  5. Giving charity before being asked.
  6. Giving adequately after being asked.
  7. Giving willingly, but inadequately.
  8. Giving unwillingly.

Especially so in the context of the Grameen Bank, which just won the Nobel Peace Prize today. The Grameen bank is level 1.3 of tzedakah. Back in the day, the WPA was level 1.1. But I’m not sure level 1.1 can really be instutionalized outside the context of economic catastrophe. Even the WPA was criticized for promoting laziness. People don’t like to feel lazy, and sometimes it’s nice to have incentives to live up to our potential. The Grameen Bank provides those incentives, so I think on the levels of tzedakah, it’s about as good as a large organization can get.