Interested in giving back this holiday season? By finding the right organization for you to donate some of your hard-earned cash, giving back can feel really rewarding.
Now if you’re a little skeptical like me, you might find it challenging to decide on the worthy cause you feel most compelled by. Female hygiene, clean water, local food banks…the list goes on and on. There’s a lot of people out there in need and you only have so much to contribute, so how do you find the right fit?
I’ll be real with you. Like most things, I treat donating like any other investment. Why? Because I prefer to do my research upfront, feel good about my decision and proceed to support the same one or two organizations each and every year.
This long-term approach allows me to go through the evaluation process more diligently than if I thought of my donation as a “one-off” contribution. (I’m all about long-term investments.)
So, where do you begin?
Before diving into the evaluation process, you should sit down with yourself and have a little conversation. I’ll be honest with you, donating is a personal, ego-driven process. And that’s OK. It should be. If you feel passionate about one or two things personal to you, you’ll be more likely to support those projects long into the future.
So I’ll ask you again: what are you passionate about? Here’s are more than a few topics to get you going:
It’s also important to recognize the type of ‘nonprofit’ you’re exploring- especially if you expect to receive a tax deduction. There are 27 (!) different types of nonprofits (sounds simple enough). Here are the ones you can receive that deduction from:
Social Advocacy Groups, categorized as a 501(c)(4) and support some kind of social or political effort. Think Greenpeace, ACLU, and the National Org for Women.
501(c)(1) are organizations set up by Congress. There’s no application and they don’t have to file tax returns.
501(c)(3) Charitable Orgs arethe most common group to give to. This category covers religious, educational, charities, and scientific and literary organizations. These gems are tax-deductible. Think the Museum of Modern Art, your hometown amateur soccer team, your university, or the local pound. Oh, and my favorite, The Minga Foundation.
It’s important to note there are 5 types of these organizations (just to make it more complex):
501(c)(8) Fraternal Beneficiary Societies & Associations- Who knew you could benefit by contributing to that “secret” society you joined in college? Members pay-to-play. Those dues cover you and other members over time.
501(c)(10) Domestic Fraternal Societies & Associations- What’s the difference between 10 and 8? Well, this one does not provide any support to members and instead support causes based on member dues. Think those frat houses you spent a little too much time in…
501(c)(13) Cemetery Companies- These groups provide burial services for its members. Members pay dues or make donations. Um, I can’t say I personally have examples for this one… but you get the gist?
Let the evaluation begin…
So you’ve had a frank convo with yourself about what you feel passionate about. And you’ve decided which type of tax-deductible organization makes sense. If the conversation with yourself dominated your decision-making, I’m going to take a wild guess to say you’re into a 501(c)(3).
While you can probably use these evaluation tips for any form of organization, it’s important to note this is what I consider when choosing what 501(c)(3) to donate to.
Get settled into their website. Take a look at:
Board structure- Are there volunteer members? What’s the breakdown in roles? There should be a dedicated treasurer, president, vice president, and some kind of topic-specialist (if not recognized in the former representatives). If there’s not, they might have trouble executing on the cause. I always look for volunteer board members who are active in the organization’s daily operations. This likely suggests they have less ‘human’ overhead, devoting more of their annual funds to the projects themselves.
Annual Reports- Use these to dive into their past work. Most organizations will be proud of their accomplishments and will promote their work in PDFs you can download from their site.
Project descriptions- Where are they working? What was their latest success? Are they accompanied by testimonials? All of these descriptors will help you get a virtual ‘feel’ for their work and values.
Head to social media-Given Facebook’s unique tools for 501(c)(3)s, most of them will have at least have a Facebook page. At best, you might be able to inspect their past ‘events’ to see what they’ve raised for and how they’ve met past funding goals. It’s also a great way to review the organization’s connection to their donors.
Consider volunteering opportunities
Don’t think you’re cash alone will make the impact you’re looking to make? How about volunteering for an hour? Even if the organization is thousands of miles away, they should have a few ways to reach out to their staff or board. Do you have a special creative or administrative skill they could use? These skills are always welcome, especially as organizations get through the end of year tasks.Lots of organizations could also benefit from helping them spread their brand awareness online! Like, share, set up a fundraising drive of your own. Nothing like getting in the holiday spirit by rallying your nearest and dearest in one cause close to your heart!
Bottom line: give back
So, as I can do, I’ve probably written a little too much and provided just a tad more information than you really need (but I really want you to have all the info to make a decision you’re most comfortable with). And, as I mentioned about a page and a half ago, if you find a group you’re passionate about, you might consider making this a periodic donation. Heck, you might even end up volunteering some time along the way. Each dollar and hour brings you a little closer to the cause.
Or, if you’re anything like me, you’ll donate, then volunteer an hour here and there. Next thing you know, you’ll be accepted onto their board. And six years later, you’ll be writing your own process for charitable giving. I’m already beaming with pride.
Happy Holidays and thanks for giving- wherever you decide!