Philanthropy: Choosing How to Give

In the age of Facebook birthday fundraisers, GoFundMes, and nonprofits galore, it seems like everywhere you look people are asking for donations. Speaking a professional fundraiser, that’s literally my job. As a donor, it can be overwhelming.

While we don’t have a lot of disposable income, we do try and be as philanthropic as possible. We volunteer, we speak up, and we donate. I had a friend reach out to me asking how I decided who to donate to because there were just so many but she recognized that she wasn’t financially able to support them all.

I was honored that she asked! While my day-to-day job is fundraising for a nonprofit, she recognized that I was a donor too and that I practice what I preach.

So, if you’re out there wanting to donate and don’t know where to start, here’s what I do:

Pick your priority areas. We all have our own priorities and values when it comes to causes. Children, elderly, veterans, animals, education… chances are you’re passionate about something. Giving is, and should be, an extremely personal experience. You as a donor have the right to choose where you give your hard-earned dollars. Start by choosing causes that mean something to you.

Do your research. Do NOT just listen to social media. When deciding to give or not, social media should not be the first place you go. News headlines, memes, and other things shared on social media only show you part of the picture. If you want to make a truly informed decision as to whether or not to give, start here:

  • Guidestar - Look up the organization you’re considering, and check out their ranking (Platinum, Gold, Silver, etc.) Then, take a look at their profile. You can see their outcomes, people served, audited financials, and IRS Form 990s. (Charity Navigator is a good option too with great statistics and a breakdown of finances.)

  • Look at their website - Do they list FAQs? What is their percentage for fundraising/administrative costs? What ways can you help?

  • *Tip: The highest percentage for fundraising/administrative costs should be 25%. Ideally, the lower the better. This means more funds are going towards outcomes and services and not salaries and other overhead.

Narrow it down. If you’re like me and my friend, you can’t afford to give to everyone. My advice? Pick three. Your top three should get the bulk of your funds. Beyond that, donate your time or talents to worthy causes. You can give more than just financial contributions.

Don’t just give for the sake of giving. Give and expect outcomes. Just like everything else, I advise you to give with intention. If you’re making the decision to donate, make sure your contribution is going to provide solid, provable outcomes. If you’ve done the research and put this much effort into choosing a cause to donate to, make sure they’re financially responsible enough to do something impactful with the money.

Ask others to join you. This is where the magic happens. Once you’ve made the donation, make the ask! Ask others to join you and donate or volunteer too. It can take that $20 donation and make it even more powerful.

Other tips:

  • Think local - national organizations can be great. But I always say community starts from the inside out, so so should philanthropy.

  • Go beyond your church - While giving to your church or place of worship can be a good thing, most organizations are extremely limited in the services and support they offer. Giving to other organizations too can help fix the bigger picture.

  • You can also donate specific supplies and/or volunteer with organizations if you can't always give financially.

It’s not up to the wealthy to give all of their money away to fix problems that all of us have created! Being wealthy isn’t a bad thing. But throwing money at an issue instead of responsibly funneling money into worthy, outcome based organizations is a bad thing. Being wealthy doesn’t mean you owe a donation to everyone who asks you for one.

On the other hand, just because you’re not wealthy doesn’t give you the excuse not to donate.

It’s up to ALL of us to do everything we can to give back to our communities. Once we do that, we’ll all be Seeing 20:20 by 2020.

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