Every year around the holidays, we are bombarded with requests for donations and messages conveying the urgent needs that nonprofits and the people they serve are experiencing.
I know that a lot of us are in need during this time of the year too, perhaps coupled with holiday stress. But if you are in a position to make financial contributions, I urge you to put more thought into your gifts this year than you ever have before.
When the economic crisis hit last year, endowments suffered massive blows and charitable giving decreased by more than 5%. The decrease could have been much worse were it not for the incredible generosity of people like you in this country and around the world. Some nonprofits had to close their doors, but some of them hung on, most just barely and only by making painful layoffs and budget cuts that meant fewer people receiving services this year.
For the nonprofits that did just manage to hold on, complete recovery will likely be the slowest in history, and many organizations are still struggling this year.
So, let’s not lose the momentum or the urgency with which we gave last year. Let’s make smart, heartfelt contributions that help nonprofits and people get through what I hope will be the last holiday season where the impact of the recession is still felt (although I have a feeling that probably won’t be so).
Suggestions for Smart Giving
(Note: Giving always comes from the heart, but it’s okay if it comes from the head too.)
Give to the Greatest Needs. Look at the organizations on your giving list and ask yourself which ones are addressing the greatest needs this year. Perhaps you’ll decide to give to a food shelter if you believe that food is the greatest need your donation can alleviate at this time.
Or, you could figure out which nonprofits are experiencing great needs themselves. For example, maybe your alma mater is in danger of losing students or valuable programs because its endowment has shrunk.
Give to the Smartest Nonprofits. Some nonprofits are better at what they do than others. If you give to the best, most efficient ones, your donation may have a lot more impact.
Ask for Giving Advice. If you’re not sure where the biggest needs are or which nonprofits deliver the best services, ask for help. Many banks have philanthropic advisory services; your local community foundation also has nonprofit experts on staff; and you can always talk to friends, family and neighbors who donate.
Give to the Experts. Many donors choose to make their gifts to organizations like community foundations or the United Way who have expertise and efficiencies to direct gifts toward areas of great need. This is a great option if you want to make a big impact but don’t have time to put a lot of thought into it.
Look for a Match. If your employer offers a matching gifts program, by all means take advantage of it. But also look for nonprofits that are participating in a matching gift challenge. This might mean that the nonprofit itself will match your contribution, or it could mean that the nonprofit has a donor who is matching contributions. Either way, your gift has the potential to leverage even more money.
It’s important to note that all of this is subjective—there is no definitive, right answer when it comes to making charitable gifts. But if you put some thought into it, you will arrive at the best choice for you.
On behalf of myself and everyone else who is a donor, employee, volunteer or service recipient of a charity, thanks for your generosity this year.
Note from MoneyNing: It is always better to give than to receive. Start giving, and you shall experience one of the greatest joys in your life. Have a happy holidays and share the love by making at least a small donation this year.