Generosity is more charitable than wealth.
- Joseph Roux
This is the time of year when many people are focused on giving gifts, be they Christmas, Hanukkah, or year-end gifts from many other traditions. It is a time to be generous to the people we care about. It is also the time to think about our final charitable gifts of the year; for many people December is when they give most of their donations. So how do you decide where to give your charitable donations? If your resources are more precious this year, in light of economic challenges, your focus may be even more important. Here are some ideas.
First of all, your resources are not limitless so give your gifts to causes and organizations that you really care about. You can make a difference in the world with your charitable gifts, as you can with your time, energy, intelligence, and muscle. The greatest benefit will occur where you give all of these, so learn to say no to charitable causes that you don’t care about and give your all to those you do.
Take a risk! Be more generous than you think you can be and be willing to fund efforts that may or may not “cure” the problem. Organizations that are really trying to make a difference may be trying new tactics or may be taking a real risk themselves. That is when they need our generosity the most. If you care about an issue, do not let your need for success limit the creativity and vision of people who are committed to addressing that issue.
Consider making fewer and larger gifts instead of many smaller gifts. This will allow you to make a real connection with the organizations you support and be more thoughtful in your contributions. It will not only make more of a difference, it will also reduce the amount of solicitation mail and other wasted communications you get from other charities.
Do you want to support organizations that work outside of systems or those working inside the system? For instance, if you are interested in childhood education, you may want to support a charter school, which works outside of the public school system. Or you may want to support an organization like Teach for America, which places talented young people in low-income area public schools. Almost any issue will have organizations that are finding a new way, and ones that are trying to support the systems in place to work better.
Consider what kind of results you are looking for. Are you interested in engaging as many people as possible, in leveraging the most resources to make a difference, or are you more interested in measurable change for those who are affected? For instance, if you are passionate about childhood hunger, would you support an organization that works worldwide and moves a large amount of food aid into needed areas? Or would you support an organization that works more directly with a specific population area to reduce the number of children living with malnutrition? These are complex situations and help is needed everywhere; you must decide what makes the most sense to you.
You may also want to think about your own role over time. Are you someone who wants to support an ongoing issue and see it through your entire lifetime or are you more inclined to try and do something about an urgent and topical problem? If you are someone who needs to see clear results quickly, you might keep that in mind when deciding on an organization to support.
An organization’s cost to raise a dollar (CTRD) is something donors are often encouraged to consider. However, this equation is not as simple as it appears. All donors want to ensure that most of their donation is going to the cause of beneficiaries, and there are industry standards about the maximum amount that should go to fundraising expenses. However if an organization is changing it scale to try to have a broader effect, or is reorienting its mission, the CTRD may for a time be justifiably higher. If it is an organization that uses has a public communication mission (to raise awareness of AIDS for instance), their fundraising may be more costly, since it may include public campaigns as well. The best way to understand these issues is to know as much as you can about the organization you are supporting.
Many donors also want to know that their donations are going directly to a program and not to pay for running the charity; thinking this will ensure their donation will have the greatest effect on the problem. Although this may be true, it is also important to consider that if you support the capacity-building of a nonprofit, they may be better able to address the issue you care about. After all, you are contributing to an organization because they do something. Without the capacity, they cannot do it.
This list of factors to consider may be overwhelming. However, if you are willing to do a little research and communicate with nonprofit organizations that you are considering, you will gain the knowledge that will make your decisions easier:
- Learn as much as you can about the issue you care about; this will inform you about which organizations are making a difference and how
- Find an organization’s annual report on the web or request that it be sent to you
- Research the organization on the web and on charity rating websites
- Make a small initial donation to see what kind of information is provided to donors
- Volunteer with the organization; this personal contact will tell you a lot about the issue and how the organization is addressing it
This is also the season for thanks. Thanks to you for carefully considering your charitable gifts – and for being so generous!