Thinking about putting a charitable organization on your gift list this holiday season? No doubt a donation would be appreciated. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that a new ranking of the nation’s 400 biggest charities shows donations dropped by 11 percent last year – the worst decline in 20 years since the Chronicle of Philanthropy began keeping a tally. As you consider supporting your community this holiday season, make sure your contributions are put to the best use. There are a few key questions to consider.
1. Is your charity able to clearly describe its purpose and programs?
Having a clear understanding of what they do and who they serve can help you decide if you will make a donation. If a charity can’t explain who it is, what it does, and why it is needed, find one that can.
2. Is your charity able to tell you the difference it is making in the lives of those served?
It’s one thing to identify a problem and describe a program, but are good intentions alone enough to earn your donation? Good organizations should also be able to describe their accomplishments, goals and challenges. Why should you support an after-school enrichment program if it can’t show you that it is helping students improve or maintain their grades?
3. Is your charity trustworthy?
While the majority of charities in America are responsible and honest, you may want to do a little research, especially if considering an organization you don’t know personally. The Foundation Center has compiled suggestions to aid donors in evaluating charities and the IRS has Publication 78, which lists the organizations eligible to receive tax-exempt donations. You may also want to the call the organization directly and ask questions so you can be assured they will make good use of your money.
4. How should I respond to a telephone caller requesting a donation?
Many legitimate and reputable charities may use the phone for fundraising campaigns. Ask the caller if they work for a paid fundraising agency and how much of your contribution will go to fundraising costs. Find out the mission/vision of the charity as well as its name, address and telephone number. If you believe in their mission, you may choose to eliminate the “middle-man,” conduct your due diligence and make a donation directly to the charity.
5. Why should I give a donation if my charities get grants from foundations and other sources?
While many charities do receive grants to deliver services and programs, the needs (longer food pantry and soup kitchen lines) are often greater than the resources available. Many grant-making institutions have reduced their giving levels, which puts charities in the position of doing more with fewer resources. Also, because a charity has economies of scale, a $1.00 donation can produce more food on a table than if you tried it alone.
You should also keep in mind that besides accepting monetary donations, charities also accept other donations such as food, toys, clothes and your time. Your time in painting a room, reading to children or serving food in a soup kitchen could be just as valuable to a charity as your monetary donation. Thank you for supporting your community this holiday season!