November 14, 2011

by: Beth Lucas

Passionate Community Members, Responsible Donors

As responsible community members, we often desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.  Whether it is on a local level or a global scale, we experience the need to give back in a meaningful way.  We reach out to organizations that we have a personal connection with, either as an individual or through our family.  We think about the nonprofit organizations that have made a marked impact on our neighborhood or city, medical providers who have provided world class care and educational institutions that provided the tools as we started or advanced our careers.  There are even times that we give out of peer pressure—a connection through friends that feel passionate about a cause.  We may seek recognition in our community, in our family or in our workplace.  The desire to improve our community can inspire us to give.  But truly, altruism comes down to our relationship with the world around us, with others, how others view us and how we view ourselves.  And as any good fundraiser will tell you, many times it is really about whether or not we have been ASKED to give.

Now that you know you are ready to give and poised to make a difference, how do you ensure that you are giving to a reputable organization?  There is definitely no shortage of not-for-profit entities you can contribute your hard-earned dollars to, and you want to ensure that it is a sound investment.   Outside of a direct connection to an organization, what factors do you consider important?  

First and foremost, clarify your values.  Does the organization’s work reflect ideals that you believe in or feel are worthwhile?  Does the organization work in your community or in an area of need that you strongly support?  Then, get the facts.  Reputable organizations have a defined mission and measurable goals.  They operate with transparency and have concrete criteria to describe their achievements and challenges.  These organizations can talk to impact of programs and the dollars donated to their agency, including how many people are positively affected by services.  They are willing to discuss their programs and finances.  Find out if their administrative costs are in an acceptable range and who else in your community donates to the organization.  You should be able to clearly tell where the dollars come from and what programs they support. 

There are many different ways to find this information, including websites like Guidestar, where you can find information on nonprofit agencies including their current IRS Form 990.  Review the agency website.  One of the best ways to observe an agency’s impact is to visit the programs in action.  Tour the agency or campus, ask questions or even consider volunteering your time before making a donation.  If this is not possible due to the type of services provided, call or meet with an agency representative to discuss your questions.  And most importantly, trust your instincts.  More often than not, your instincts are right on.

We know that each individual has a different capacity to give and the decision to donate is not always an easy one.  Throughout the next six weeks, as you consider your year-end contributions and how you would like to support the community during this season of giving, please feel free to call on us at anytime.  And whatever you are passion is, please know that you are making a difference.

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