Donating Wisely: How to Decide Where to Give
December is the most charitable month of the year, but with more ways to give than ever and an expanding list of causes, how do we decide which organizations to support? With the advent of social media and "robo-giving," a new generation is changing how we approach philanthropy.
- Thomas Donovan - Director of Charitable Trusts for the Department of Justice.
- Stacy Palmer - Editor, The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
- Kathleen Reardon - CEO of the NH Center for NonProfits.
In December, people are motivated by both the holiday spirit and that end of the year tax deduction. And, this December, Americans seem to be in a generous mood. In fact, it’s been going like “gangbusters,” according to Stacy Palmer, editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
For example, Palmer said on The Exchange, "Giving Tuesday,” a 24-hour period devoted to charitable giving, raised $168 million dollars this year, a jump of $50 million over 2015. One reason is the stock market is doing well, and that tends to increase donations. Also, there are many easy ways to give nowadays -- from mailing a check to clicking a hashtag. And Palmer says the recent Presidential Election has had an impact, increasing donations in general as “people are finding a way to come together in their communites.”
Still – choosing your charities can be complicated, and people still wrestle with questions of trust and effectiveness. And it’s worth doing your research, says Thomas Donavan, director of Charitable Trusts at the New Hampshire Department of Justice. If you get a phone call asking for money, he says, be careful – find out the name of the person, the organization, and whether they are paid solicitors, (companies that nonprofits sometimes hire to help with their fundraising). Also Donovan says “be reluctant to give out information like credit card numbers….find out the address and write a check”.
One huge issue that always comes up this time of year is donor concerns about what part of every dollar goes to administrative costs versus the actual service the group is providing. Caller Richard on The Exchange urged that people check this, as did several other listeners. But those numbers should be judged carefully, said Kathleen Reardon, CEO of the New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits, which represents 8,000 N.H. nonprofits. “Nonprofits need to run effectively as a business. We need to have infrastructure to support and deliver this great programming. Our rent, utilities, hiring people….you need to look at this more holistically, and look at results that are being delivered”.
Reardon and Stacy Palmer were both reluctant to assign a specific number or percentage that feels acceptable and what might be “too much.” But Palmer did say generally, 60, 70, 80 % into programming sounds about right.
Another major issue facing charities these days is the growth of on-line crowdfunding sources like GoFundMe. The guests said anyone can set up a site and raise money for a cause, but these are not registered charities,and are not held to the same standards as nonprofits.
Are these pulling donations from the New Hampshire nonprofits? Reardon and Donovan said they didn’t have numbers, but, anecdotally, they had heard from people who say they are choosing these “peer-to-peer” or crowdfunding sites over traditional charities. At the same time, long-standing nonprofits are taking advantage of these newer platforms, especially to attract younger donors.
And, Donovan added, in his role as a charity watchdog: You don’t know that these appeals are legitimate, even though many of them are. Palmer agreed. Whenever something tugs a little too hard at your heartstrings…..“hold back, do a little research….there’s no reason you have to give the second someone asks you.”
Here are some organizations and resources to guide your giving:
Interaction (for International Relief and Development Charities)
Givewell (Research on Giving)
Time Magazine's list of 5 ways to help those in Aleppo
Guidestar (Information on Charities)
Great Nonprofits (ratings from clients and volunteers of charities)