Thursday, September 12, 2013

Informed Giving, a different type of Preparedness

Engage brain when donating
Up to this point the focus has been on promoting personal preparedness: disaster kits, the innovative ways people are integrating preparedness into everyday life, etc. But there's a side to preparedness that hasn't been discussed and one that isn't usually brought up, it has to deal with being informed on who you're giving your donations to--being a responsible donor.

I've posted some of the ads that push individuals to donate cash in the wake of a disaster because it's flexible, timely, and responsive to the changing needs a community faces. While that's an important message, it's only a small piece of the larger picture to help provide guidance on informed giving.

When articles like: The 50 Worst Charities are published, they prey on the fears of being taken advantage of, the fear that an unknown organization is going to misappropriate your donation. And because I hope you're grabbing your checkbook more than your disaster kit, it's important to feel good about the organizations you're donating to, so here are some tips and resources to help you begin your informed giving education:

Unrestricted Funding is not a bad thing (usually). Nonprofit organizations use unrestricted funds to pay salaries, to keep the lights on, and generally everything that doesn't fall under program expenses. While the topic of unrestricted funding is far more nuanced, the thing to remember is this: if you make a donation to an organization, do it in a way where you can detail how your donation is to be spent. If you want your money to go towards creating a jacuzzi for stray animals, expressly communicate that when making your donation, if you don't, then your donation will end up in a general fund (usually). Again, general or unrestricted funds aren't bad, in fact they are a necessity, but when you think your money is going one place and it's actually going somewhere else and you find feel lied to. example: Moore, OK

Results, what are those? What was accomplished with your money? Holding nonprofits accountable for how your donation is spent means asking questions and following up to make sure they follow through. While writing a check gives you the option of quieting your tormented conscious and moving on, resist that urge and stay engaged and see how your organization of choice chooses to communicate it's activities and their results--doing this may change your view of your nonprofit of choice.

Don't be afraid of new organizations. Yeah, I said it. I've met more people who just started doing stuff following an event than I can count. While their lack of experience usually leads to problems in other aspects of response, the money they receive is usually spent the minute they get it. There's usually no rhyme or reason to how it's spent, oftentimes whatever is needed at the time is where your money goes. It may go to one family in the form of a cash donation so they can cover a car payment, or it may go to the purchasing of tools and contractor bags for volunteers, etc...Chances are your reporting will come in the form of Facebook updates and tweets but you'll know what they're doing with it. Good for people who aren't afraid to take risks and those who want an immediate impact made with their donation.

Community Foundations. These oft overlooked entities are local grant making institutions that existed prior to the event, and are usually involved in the Long Term Recovery of their community (when money is needed to cover financial gaps for a homeowner). Their involvement and knowledge of local needs can be an asset when looking to ensure holistic community recovery. They are already setup to take tax deductible donations and did I mention that they're local?

While being local is good, Community Foundations can be slow to act because of their unfamiliarity with disaster response and recovery and are more susceptible to local politics. Be that as it may, they are a great and lesser known option in the sea of nonprofits.

Do Your Homework. There are resources available that provide information on a wide range of nonprofits: Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau, Guidestar, and Great Each of these sites provides different metrics by which to evaluate a nonprofit organization. You can find salaries, 990's, reviews from past volunteers, etc...Just like you wouldn't throw your money into the garbage or on something you don't want, you shouldn't give to an organization just because it's easy.

There are so many great organizations out there deserving of your donations that with a little work and an understanding of the kind of programming you want to support, you can be introduced to a lot of great organizations that will gladly put your money to use while you put your mind at ease.


  1. nice one.
    I like the way you highlight that untied funds are OK, that NGOs have to pay for electricity, postage, and heaven forbid, staff. This is a message worth reinforcing, because I think the public think that it just all happens by magic.

    The community foundations are a great idea too, and I think the challenges you rightly raise, can be overcome with education, and some good governance

  2. Hi John, the issue of unrestricted funding is sticky where nonprofits are concerned; there is this unwritten rule that if
    G & A exceeds 10% then the organization is a poor steward of donor money and it just can't be broken down that simply. So yeah, I'm happy to hear that there is support for talking about this in a more transparent way.

    As for community foundations, I agree that through education and good board governance many of the potential challenges that they struggle with can be worked through.

    Glad you liked the post.