Giving Tuesday falls on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Newly created just last year, this one day is centered on the philanthropy of individuals and allows us to focus on nonprofits that help our community throughout the entire year. It asks us all to stop thinking about what we need for a moment and to think about the needs of others, by supporting a nonprofit or charity. I would second that. According to Charity Navigator, 70% of Americans would welcome less emphasis on gift giving and spending, so I am not alone.There are hundreds of great nonprofits, right here in Southwest Alabama that are making positive impacts on the lives of thousands of our friends, family and neighbors. Some you may have heard of, others you may not know exist. Each one is touching a life, making a difference, and can use your help.
This time of year many groups and organizations will ask for your help. Whether through a fund raising event, annual campaign drive, phone call or mailer you will be asked to give a donation. Research from the Center on Philanthropy shows that this is a busy time of year for asking and giving. The average person makes 24% of their annual donations to nonprofits between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
It is my wish that as you buy your holiday gifts, that you also make a donation, volunteer your time, or speak up for those who need a voice. But I make this wish with a caution to all. While most organizations are very efficient, effective and make a positive impact, unfortunately there are a few that are dishonest and will try to take advantage of your goodwill. In an effort to assist you in protecting yourself and helping you to make the most of your generosity I’ve included some helpful tips to keep in mind.
- Know the organization. There are many well established organizations that you are familiar with, but each year new groups appear. As you consider new groups please do your due diligence in establishing their legitimacy. As an example, more than 500 fake groups tried to profit off of Hurricane Katrina, and the “fund for Connecticut victims” took advantage of the sad event at Sandy Hook Elementary. Unfortunately, many donations were made to these false organizations because they sounded real. Tips on validating the organizations would include: calling the organization, visiting their website, or better yet, visiting them in person. There are also websites you can visit to do your own research such as Guidestar.com, CharityNavigator.com or CharityWatch.org. These websites rate charities, share financial information on them and report on any scams or bogus claims. The United Way also reviews local nonprofits before approving them as a partner.
- Who is watching over the organization? Good governance and oversight helps protect the organization and the donors. That is the primary job of the Board of Directors and executive staff. Collectively they establish the vision and direction, make policy and strategy decisions, oversee and monitor the organizational performance, and ensure overall accountability. A question you can ask is if the board is made up of local community leaders, neighbors, or people you may know? If so, talk to them about it. Ask the board members what is the organization’s mission and vision, how often they meet and any additional questions you may have about the nonprofit’s finances.
- Is the organization transparent? By this I mean do they share their financial statements, audits and 990s (this is their tax form)? Do they clearly state how much of each gift goes to programs and what percentage of your gift goes to overhead (administration and fund raising expenses)? Some will have this available on their website. Each group’s percentage will be different, but it is up to the donor as to what they feel comfortable with. Most charity watchdog groups suggest not to solely focus on the overhead percentage, but to focus on what the organization is doing as whole with any donations it receives.
- Is it making an Impact? Some nonprofits have been around our entire life, others just a few years, so the question is how can you tell if their programs are making a positive impact on your community? Find out what their programs outcomes are and ultimately what the impact of the outcomes are. For example, if they are providing a safety net, how many people did they help? If they say they are running a program to help X number of kids, how many did they help and what does that mean? Don’t be afraid to ask the ‘so what’ question; “You helped X, so what does that mean?” Does it mean more kids will graduate high school, more families will stay together, or more people will live a more healthy life? All are very positive outcomes that will assure your donations are making a positive impact by simply asking questions and getting the facts first!
I hope each and everyone one of you enjoy a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season. If you have already supported a local nonprofit I definitely want to say “thank you”! If you haven’t, it’s never too late to reach out and make a difference in someone else’s life. When we reach out a hand to one, we influence the condition of all. Each time you give, advocate or volunteer, you are part of the lasting change. You are choosing to LIVE UNITED.