giving back

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I’ve worked in the nonprofit world since I graduated college and I’m acutely aware of how important end of year giving is to most organizations. For many, especially small nonprofits, more than 80% of their budget comes from the final two months of the year. In light of that, I’m encouraging friends and family to give back to organizations that are meaningful to them this holiday season. If you decide to do the same, here are a few pieces of advice.

P.S. Today is Giving Tuesday, the perfect time to put these words into action!

  • Get acquainted with the organizations you support. Check Charity NavigatorCharity Watch, GuideStar, or similar organizations and see how they measure up. Look for organizations that are fully transparent and financially accountable. That means organizations that are willing to share what they’re spending funds on and how much of that funding supports administrative costs versus programs.
  • If you have a specific program you want to fund, that’s great. If not, consider giving to an organization’s most pressing need. Sure, it’s not the most exciting area but general operating costs are crucial. These organizations need to keep the lights on, buy a new delivery truck, or a new database, or an infinite number of other not so sexy things. Restricting gifts can be beneficial, but if you aren’t sure, trust them to know what they need most.
  • Understand the differences between national and local giving. There are many organizations that have a national organization that leads local affiliates. If you want your money to stay in your community, you’re (almost always) better off giving to the local office. Money from national offices does get filtered down, but it may not be the full amount. And, if you give to the national office, the local office may not ever know you gave – they’ll just receive the money. That may sound fine, but many of these organizations would like to thank you directly and give you an opportunity to learn more about the difference they’re making in your community.
  • Look for matching gift opportunities. Around the holidays, many nonprofits will have a donor provide a matching gift opportunity, to double or triple your impact. Read the fine print carefully, but if your $10 can become $20 just because you gave during a specific time, take advantage of that!
  • If you can’t give money, give time. This is a big one. Most nonprofits have a need for volunteers, and not just around the holidays. I always loved working with people who would bring in their whole family around Christmas to volunteer, but what I really loved was meeting families who were willing to come back throughout the year and lend a hand. If they need volunteers during the holidays, they (most likely) need them year round. Maybe you can volunteer once a week or once a month or once a quarter. Remember that you have more to give than what’s in your wallet.
  • If you want to learn more, just ask! If you find a few nonprofits that sound interesting to you and want to find out some more information, call them. They should have someone willing to answer the phone and spend a few minutes talking to you about what they do and how they’re making a difference. Never hesitate to reach out. The good ones want you to have all the information so you can make an informed decision.
  • Every little bit helps. It’s so cliche but it’s also true. You’d be surprised by how far some organizations can stretch $5. There is no such thing as a small gift. I used to work with a donor whose son asked for donations to our organization instead of birthday presents. For his fifth birthday, he brought in the money that friends and family had given him, and then he emptied out his piggy bank – $6.50. It was so meaningful to him to be helping those in need and, if only for that reason, the size of the gift didn’t matter.

These four national and international organizations are on my list, but there are many other worthwhile nonprofits that could use your support – schools, churches, arts and cultural organizations, hospitals and health facilities, veteran and military support groups, human rights organizations, nature conservancies and environmental groups, organizations that support children, domestic violence shelters, soup kitchens and others that assist the homeless, animal rescues, and so, so many others. (Please forgive me if I left anything out, I assure you it wasn’t intentional). Here’s what’s on my list this year:

  • Robin Hood. This organization, located in NYC, aims to fight poverty in New York. They have so many fantastic projects but what’s most impressive is how they run their organization. In addition to a stringent series of metrics they use to spend their philanthropic dollars more wisely, their board pays 100% of administration costs for the organization. That means that 100% of what donors contribute goes directly to fighting poverty and assisting those in need.
  • Feeding America. Feeding America is an umbrella organization that works with over 200 food banks across the United States. You can support the national organization (which always has matching gift opportunities this time of year) or use their site to find your local food bank.
  • Everytown. Everytown is an organization that advocates for responsible gun ownership and safety. They focus on enforcing background checks, preventing domestic violence and preventable gun deaths, and gun trafficking.
  • UNICEF. UNICEF is a recent addition to my list – I initially gave to support the refugee and migrant crisis in Syria. They work for children’s rights around the world and have a vast array of programs that cover education, equality, protection, and survival.

If you aren’t sure where to begin, I’d start by looking around your community. Find out what’s important to you and go from there. I can almost guarantee there’s a nonprofit out there for whatever you’re hoping to support, no matter how specific it is. Consider giving whatever you can – your voice, your money, or your time.

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