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As you do your holiday shopping in the next few weeks, you’ll hear a familiar ringing sound. For many, the Salvation Army’s bell is a reminder to give to others in need, especially during the holidays. For me, the bell’s iconic toll makes me reflect on the impact I have had on the causes I care about most.
In working with clients over the years, I have found that those who give their time and treasure to a cause they care deeply about are more fulfilled. Perhaps it’s because the simple act of helping others amplifies a greater purpose in all of us.
Listen to Barry Glassman’s WTOP interview:
There are many deserving organizations doing great things, but before I go into the details of finding great charities to donate to, I want to spend some time on the trend of targeting our donation dollars.
Should you target your donation dollars?
We now have more control over how our ‘charity of choice’ uses our donation and it’s become very popular to stipulate that our dollars go toward the charity’s programs rather than overhead and marketing. After all, most of us would rather feed more people or pay for more cancer research than support the staff’s salaries.
We’ve been taught to think that overhead in charities is somehow a bad thing. Dan Pallotta, an activist and fundraiser says the way we think about charity is undermining what we want to accomplish. In his 2013 TED Talk, The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong, Pallotta points out that charitable organizations simply can’t compete against the private sector for top talent because they’re not able to offer competitive salaries to attract and retain them. They are often penalized for having large marketing budgets even when these efforts result in even greater giving. He believes that we have to start rewarding charitable organizations for their big goals and big accomplishments if we want to see big changes in our world’s most daunting issues.
I’ve been involved with The National Brain Tumor Society (NBTS) for over 20 years. When someone receives the devastating news that they have a brain tumor, their world is turned upside down. When they contact NBTS, they are connected with a counselor who understands the fear, anger and confusion they are going through. These amazing people are there to help each patient sort through their emotions, understand their treatment options and provide support for them and their families every step of the way. The salaries and other expenses for the counselors fall under NBTS’s administration costs, but I think we all agree that the counselors have an enormous impact on those the organization serves.
The moral here is that while we all want charities to use our money wisely, perhaps we should place more emphasis on the outcomes they are having rather than on the amount of their overhead.
Choose a charity that aligns with your values:
We all have reasons that we give, and if you have a deeper connection to a cause, chances are that you will have a greater impact.
If you’re not sure about how to find reputable charities or you want to research a charity before giving to them, a great place to start is CharityNavigator.org.
This is a fantastic one-stop resource to learn more about all types of 501(c) (3) charities. They score charitable organizations and award stars based on their financial health, and transparency and accountability as compared to others with similar causes. They provide information about the charity’s mission and their financial statements, and suggest other highly rated charities doing similar work. You can also compare several charities before making your decision.
If you want to make a difference in your community, consider giving to your community foundation. These organizations know the local charities and the critical needs in your community. Many community foundations fund several charitable initiatives each year with programs that serve children, veterans, the homeless, and the aging in their communities. Donations can be earmarked for specific charities that the community foundation supports.
They also initiate Giving Circles like the Business Women’s Giving Circle established by the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia. The mission of the women who belong to this giving circle is to empower women and girls of all ages to innovate, lead and succeed. Giving Circles are also a great way to connect with others who share your passion on a more personal level.
To find a community foundation near you, use this Community Foundation Locator.
At a recent conference, I learned first-hand about the enormous impact that crowdsourcing can have when someone takes a problem and invites the world to help solve it. Charles Best was a teacher who decided to take a lunch-time conversation with his fellow teachers about all the books and supplies they needed and put those requests on the internet.
Since founding DonorsChoose.org in 2000, the impact they have had on teachers, students and schools is nothing short of astounding. They have raised over $285 million and funded over 520,000 projects affecting 13 million students in 60,000 schools. This short VIDEO explains why Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama support the efforts of DonorsChoose.org.
Giving back has been a big part of my life since I was in high school, so this is a good way to wrap up my Best Practices for Living a Healthy Financial Life series. Whether you choose to have an immediate effect on an issue like funding a class field trip, donate to long-term challenges like finding a cure for cancer, or volunteer at your local food bank, you and your family will changes lives for the better – including yours.