As the national day of giving on May 6 approaches, you are probably getting inundated with scads of emails from your favorite nonprofits asking you for monetary support. Spring fever incites an avalanche of fundraising efforts.
In Seattle, the annual push has been named Give Big, and is sponsored by the Seattle Foundation. Millions of dollars are usually raised each year, so this represents a significant opportunity and success for many organizations.
Maybe you have been wondering about how to start your own giving practice. Are you interested in donating, but are not quite sure where to give your money? It can be overwhelming to try to figure that out. This day of giving might be a good opportunity to test the waters.
My own path to giving has been an excruciatingly slow process. I would often tune out emails and requests to donate or attend fundraisers. Even now, I find it challenging to pick nonprofits year after year, particularly with the million and one things that demand my attention. Truthfully, my giving path has been primarily focused on giving my time: volunteering for causes I believe in. But for many people volunteering may not be a viable option, so donating can be the best way to commit to a giving practice.
I've put together a guide to outline some simple steps you can take to pick the cause you want to support. My hope is that it will make the process easier and less anxiety-provoking!
Remember, your feelings about the cause you most care about can change over time, from week to week, month or month, or over the course of the year. And that's totally okay! Go with whatever you groove to most, in the moment.
Use these steps in any way you want — you can mix up the order or just focus on only a few:
Step 1: Involve your significant other, friends or family. It can be more fun to have someone else or several people to join in with you in your giving practice. Involving children is a wonderful way to get them interested in issues beyond their backyard. Call a family meeting where you discuss the issues each of you cares about, including outlining family values around giving.
Step 2: Pick the location of the issue you care most about, be it local, national or international. You may wish to focus on efforts happening right in your community or you may wish to set your sights on organizations abroad.
Step 3: Decide what issue(s) you care most about. It is possible to give to more than one organization, especially if it's a tie between several issues (and you want to avoid disappointing your children!). You can make this fun by pulling out some flipchart paper and some colored markers and brainstorming away!
Step 4: Pick the method of service delivery you prefer. Organizations have different strategies for working on their issues, e.g. research, advocacy, training/education, program development and community building, to name a few.
Step 5: If you want to take this another step further, do some research and ask questions. Google is your best friend. Every well-established organization will have a website where most of the information is at your fingertips. For example, the Seattle Foundation’s Giving Center provides evaluations and information about all registered 1,400 nonprofits in Seattle.
Questions and issues to help guide your research:
Sources of funding: Where does the organization get the bulk of its money? From large foundations (e.g. the Gates Foundation) or primarily from individual donors giving a range of amounts? If you want to support organizations depending heavily on individual donors but only a few large foundations, that will narrow your choices.
Organizational structure: How many staff members and volunteers work there? Some organizations have 1-2 staff and their programs are primarily volunteer-run.
Does the organization work closely with community partners or as a sole operation? Working with community partners demonstrates a good leverage of resources and funding.
Look at the annual report. An organization's annual report gives you a good idea how well organized it is. Are there stories of impact? Do you have a good idea of the types of programs delivered? Do they have a good fundraising track record?
Is the organization well-known or does it get very little media coverage? Generally, those organizations that don't get attention have smaller budgets and their outreach is limited.
What will your donation be used for? Funds can go for general operating support (staff salaries and overhead) or more specific things like materials, training, workshops, etc.
Step 6: Decide how much money you want to donate. If this is your first donation of the calendar year, kudos to you! If you are planning to make several donations throughout the year or make a year-end donation around the holidays, you can work with a financial adviser to help with this or keep it very simple. It's a very personal decision, and there is no right or wrong answer.
Step 7: Choose the organization you want to support. This may seem daunting and even overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. Wading into a morass of nonprofits that are all trying to do the best they can with what they have is enough to make the most intrepid donor-wannabe flee!
If you want to make well-informed decision about where your dollars are going, take the time to research your options. You may know right off the bat where you want to donate, and I encourage you to research that organization(s) carefully. There are so many worthy organizations out there! And remember, any amount you give makes a difference.