Tips for Giving Graciously

. December 1, 2015.
giving-tips-ML-12-15

by Chris Watson

No one wants to be Scrooge.  Charles Dickens’ iconic mizer from A Christmas Carol is a leading candidate for holiday disdain.  But only at first, before he becomes the hero, delivering holiday cheer through largesse in the final pages of the perennially told story.  Scrooge is the epitome of the redemptive value of charity.  The question is not whether we should share our blessings with others; the question is always with whom shall we share?

Focus is First

“Personal connection plays a large part in where people contribute,”  claims Nicole Candle, Manager for the Women’s Initiative of United Way of Greater Toledo. “If you have a specific passion, you can find a cause to contribute to that will make a difference.”

By first identifying what you and your family’s interest, the daunting of possibilities for donating narrows.  It is also important to look across the spectrum of causes.  When focusing on a problem like hunger, there are scores of charities, from international to local, that work toward eliminating hunger as a human concern.  “Many people identify their philanthropic focus, whether that is education, health, homelessness, hunger, etc, and then make contributions associated with those causes,” remarks Candle. Identifying a focus simplifies the contribution picture.

Donors expect accountability

Everyone wants to know that the money and time they give is being used and being used wisely. But how can you be sure?  “First take a look at their board of directors,”  says Keith Burwell, President of the Toledo Community Foundation.  “Make sure the board is representative of the community as a whole with a broad range of experience and interest.”  Having a board, and making sure that board of governance isn’t mono-focused (such as only being of a single family or profession), is an important indicator of an organization’s viability and strength.

Karen Mathison, President and CEO of United Way of Greater Toledo agrees.  “There is a level of accountability that donors should expect.”  She further explains, “A simple web search to gather information about a charity or nonprofit organization should reveal a few basics.  Is there a list of board members?  Does the non profit have a financial annual report, audit procedure, and properly filed tax form 990?”  If these fundamentals are not met, it is prudent to investigate the organization further before giving money or time.

Mission Metrics

Beyond accountability, charities should be able to demonstrate that they are meeting their mission.  This is often times easier to see when donating to local charities but should not discount organizations that work internationally. “There is work that can only be done on a local, immediate scale,”  says Mathison. “There is also work that needs to be tackled nationally or globally.  In any of these cases, the charity should be able to benchmark progress and demonstrate momentum toward fulfillment of their mission.”

Burwell emphasizes metrics as well. “In today’s day and age there is no lack of tools to create and measure progress.  Regardless of the focus of a non profit they should be able to show that their programming is effective and impactful, both short and long term.”

Above All Give

“‘We all do better when we all do better,’” says Mathison, quoting former Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone.  “That premise is at the root of what we do at United Way,” she explains.  “First and foremost we must recognize that our community, including our families and ourselves, fair better when we show compassion and generosity. The holidays are a great time to be sensitive to our community’s needs and become part of an ongoing effort to meet those needs through giving.” 

Burwell takes the idea further. “We are a nation of givers,”  he says passionately.  “Together we can solve problems, perhaps not quickly or in one dramatic stroke, but we can be a part of a working solution.” He continues with emphasis.  “There is no reason to wait for some defining moment in your life to be charitable. Giving back to our community is in the very framework of who we are as a nation. Now is the time to give.”

Nicole Candle Manager, Women’s Initiative of United Way of Greater Toledo

“By first identifying what you and your family’s interest, the daunting of possibilities for donating narrows.”

Karen Mathison President and CEO of United Way of Greater Toledo

“A simple web search to gather information about a charity or nonprofit organization should reveal a few basics.”

Keith Burwell President of the Toledo Community Foundation

“Make sure the board is representative of the community as a whole with a broad range of experience and interest.”

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