How to Donate to Charity

A friend of mine mentioned that she and her husband had chosen their preferred charity for the year and the best charities to donate to are for cancer. Each January, they review the organizations they support and may move on from some, but they always choose one charity to be a new nonprofit for them to support for at least a year. My friend happens to be a former fundraising professional, so she knows exactly how to vet a charity and what she likes to see.

How should someone who is interested in supporting an organization evaluate an organization? Many people give to established and well-known charities, but there are easy tips on how to become a more strategic donor to any nonprofit.

Supporting a charity is a highly personal decision. Some people want to become involved with an organization that focuses on research and support for individuals dealing with a specific disease because they have had a loved one who has been affected, others care about learning and helping to ensure that all children are provided a quality education and still others care about providing future generations access to art and history. The good causes that can be supported in the world are countless.

In order to effectively give to charity, the most important thing to do is to define what you value and what would make you feel good in supporting. Whether you are passionate about art, healthcare, education, human rights, the environment or something else, you want to care about what you support financially.

Once you have determined the type of mission you wish to support, think about how you want to give. Do you want to give money? Volunteer time? In today’s world, many sophisticated charities are also recruiting their donors to become ambassadors for the organization by using social media and other strategies to raise awareness within their circles of influence.

Then its time to do some research. Some people prefer to give their donations or time to large and well-known organizations for a variety of reasons. However, there are many nonprofits that may be smaller and operating within a single community that are integral to those who are being served.

Whatever way you choose to give – large or small – it’s good to spend a few minutes doing a little bit of vetting. Start out by checking an organization’s website and see if it is being transparent. Do they list the board and staff members? Do they have their IRS 990 filings or annual report easily available online? Are they clear about their mission and do they demonstrate their objectives and measurable outcomes in support of their work?

All charities in the United States must be registered within their state. Check out the National Association of State Charity Officials to start. You can also find important information about organizations, including a nonprofit’s IRS filings at Charity Navigator or Guidestar, which has a very robust donor resource guide. Additionally, there is a Donors Bill of Rights, which is published on the Association of Fundraising Professionals website. These rights state what any reputable nonprofit organization owes to its donors.

It is always a good idea to take a few minutes and spend it reviewing an organization’s IRS 990 filings. You want to see if an organization is growing financially from one year to the next and if it is not, or worse – losing money, you want to do a little more research or call the nonprofit and ask why. There may be valid reasons for a decrease in revenue, but if you are going to give your hard earned dollars, you want to understand the reason, which can be anything from preparation for a capital campaign, investment into capacity building, loss of donors or some other such reason.

Many people are giving donations online, and it is important to ensure that your data is secure and they are using encryption tools to safeguard your personal and financial information. Additionally, support organizations that have published their Privacy Policies on their website. You may not want to give to an organization that reserves the right to sell your name and contact information as part of their donor acquisition efforts.

Today’s tech savvy nonprofits are expanding their reach through their donors. Many organizations will offer you the opportunity to create your own fundraising page or join someone else’s and help spread the word to raise money. You can also become a social media ambassador and have your followers know your support to the charity.

Finally, if you are giving a monetary gift, any gift helps, but keep in mind that you can leverage your donation by making a long-term commitment. If possible, choose to commit to the organization for an extended period of time and support them on a monthly basis if it makes giving easier. It might be difficult to give $100, but if you commit to $10 per month for a year, you gave $120. By making a long-term commitment to an organization, you also help them make better use of their financial resources. Feel free to tell them you are in for the long haul and you prefer not to receive any letters in the mail or have them waste money on retaining you, but make sure you receive their updates and know how your gift is being used.

© 2014 Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.

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