With the upcoming holiday season, it’s a time of year to give back. Whether you write a check for a large organization, donate a little extra to church, or are just thinking about getting started, here are some things to think about for responsible giving that makes an impact.
Find Something Personal
What things do you care about? What can you stay passionate about supporting? This is all about finding the things you connect with on a personal level. Whether animals, cancer research, women’s shelters or food banks. Find something you believe in.
Do your research
Before you get out the checkbook, do a little homework. Or assign any children you might own to such homework under the guise of “life skills”. You need to double check that the charity you’re interest in supporting is a tax exempt 501(c)(3) public charity.
Examine the charity’s finances. Typically, excellent charities will have this information listed on their website. An organization that is financially healthy will have greater flexibility and freedom to pursue their charitable mission. You also want to make sure the charity is transparent about how it’s run, not just how it spends its money. Charities that follow good governance practices are less likely to engage in unethical or irresponsible activities.
You can also check with Better Business Bureau which looks at how charities use their funds. To earn the BBB seal, a charity must spend at least 65% of its total expenses on program activities and no more than 35% of related contributions on fund raising. While a charity might look great on paper, their financial documents will reveal that they spend most of their money on soliciting donations (ie: telemarketers, etc) and sometimes less than 1% on direct cash aid to programs.
After investigating a charity it’s time to sit down and talk with them. Hear where they’ve been and where they’d like to go. Make sure their goals and vision align with something you’re interested in supporting. Ask about whether a lump sum is better or a donation spaced throughout the year. And make sure you get a receipt as most donations are tax-deductible.
Obviously, you don’t need to follow up for an itemized list of where your money went. But you do want to check back in around the six-month mark just to see how things are moving overall. This is also the time to consider your next donation and whether you feel comfortable continuing this relationship. And don’t forget about other ways you might be able to support the charity—through volunteering or something more specific.
Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21