This is the time of year when people start thinking more about giving. Maybe it’s the holiday spirit, or maybe it’s the last chance to get that charitable tax deduction before the end of the year. Either way, with over one million charities in the United States, the choices can be overwhelming. How do you decide which non-profit is the one for you?
1) Find a cause with a personal connection. Mrs. Pennypacker and I have several: cancer research, youth development, fitness, and service dogs. Giving to something that has special meaning to you, will ultimately be the most rewarding.
2) Find a charity that is financially sound. Charity Navigator is a great resource for finding well-run charities. Look at what percentage of a non-profit’s budget is spent on administration and overhead versus actually providing services. Don’t be afraid to do some research. You want to make sure your donation will be used wisely.
3) Look local. Nothing against big charities, but sometimes it’s nice finding a small, local group that you can develop a relationship with. Your gift tends to have a larger, more direct impact when it doesn’t have to filter down through a large bureaucracy.
Don’t choose a charity just because you saw an ad on TV and don’t pick the one that makes you feel guilty or that all your friends are giving to. Lastly, if you’re tight on money, consider a charity with which you can volunteer your time.
A few Sundays ago I remember watching an interview on Sunday Morning with Ari Nessel, the founder of the Pollination Project. Every day he gives $1000 to a different group or individual working on a project that tries to make a difference in the world. These are typically smaller charities, just starting out that really appreciate the donation.
This is different than what most givers might do – find a large, well-established charity and donate a large lump sum. In return, maybe this large charity will send you a gift, put your name on a wall, or perhaps name a building after you. There’s little doubt that most of these larger charities will appreciate your donation and put your money to good use. But what about the thousands of start-up charities that are just getting off the ground?
Nessel feels the impact of his gift is greater when the recipient is a smaller charity. “My experience is that transformation happens on the fringes and in the micro areas and the individuals, and doesn’t happen on the large scale.” It’s a bottom-up approach. If you can make a difference at the community level, the transformation will grow and spread from there to surrounding communities, then to cities, and eventually to whole countries.
The great part is, the Pollination Project strategy isn’t just for the wealthy. Anyone can develop their own micro-charity donation plan. Just change the frequency or the amount. For example, you could give $1000 every month or $100 every week. Then start scouring the planet for deserving charitable start-ups.