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Five Tips for Meaningful Philanthropy

Giving back to the community seems to reach a fevered pitch in December because there are lots of opportunities to help make sure the holidays are special for everyone in the community. No less that most donations are tax-deductible so financially beneficial for the donor as well.

In order to ensure that giving back to the community is most fulfilling, here are five considerations:

Be Strategic

Dog Paw and Human HandWe all know the adage “If you fail to plan you plan to fail”. While this may be a little dramatic, I do think executing a proactive plan rather than waiting for solicitations will be more meaningful for you.

Being strategic – being choiceful – is hard work 1) because it is natural to want to support everything … there are so many worthy causes, and 2) because strategy is as much about what you are not choosing as what you are. But narrowing in on just a few areas of support creates more impact and avoids spreading your energies too thin.

Choosing causes that are important to you and that really light your fire is the best course of action. Perhaps you feel strongly about education. Or animal welfare. Or creating a world where no one has to live in poverty.

Choose Carefully

Not all organizations are worthy of your hard-earned money or energy. Family Connections, an Austin organization that failed not too long ago due to the executive director’s theft, helps us realize the importance of vetting the organizations that will receive our philanthropic resources. Making sure the nonprofit is financially stable and well run are two steps in the right directions. There are many tools to help with this process including a newly redesigned GuideStar website, Charity Navigator, GiveWell, Charity Watch or the Better Business Bureau’s philanthropy arm. These all provide basics on nonprofits and many can be searched by cause area.

Better yet, use your network. Written information and data only provide part of the story. Ask your friends for their philanthropy experiences. Word of mouth is sometimes a better indicator of a worthy nonprofit than what is captured through research data on a website.

There are many cautionary tales of nonprofits that have undervalued, misused or squandered donations. Take the time to investigate recipient nonprofits for a better chance of making the right investment.

Create a Relationship

Developing a relationship with the organizations which receive your donations also fosters more meaningful giving. While taking time to a build relationship is more time consuming, it enables you to understand what you can best do to support the organization and conversely to formulate what it is you want from the relationship. A two-way street will be much more fulfilling.

Time is Money

Woman VolunteeringWhile cold hard cash is always a welcome gift for a nonprofit, another form of philanthropy is also valuable – your talent and time as a volunteer. You probably have many skills and talents that a nonprofit might use effectively instead of paying someone. Maybe you’re a great fundraiser. Maybe you can develop and execute a marketing plan. Maybe you are an IT professional that can guide their technology decisions. Or maybe you don’t mind doing little needed tasks – answering the phones, stuffing envelopes, making copies, etc.

As long as the receiving nonprofit really needs what you can offer, giving your time can be a great way to create a rewarding giving experience for yourself while saving the nonprofit from spending their budget to hire someone else.

Evaluate Your Gifts

You should not invest your hard-earned resources in philanthropy without knowing the impact. Evaluating your investment in the community is a critical step in figuring out if you want to continue to fund that opportunity or similar options in the future … or not.

Examples of measurements are usually tied to the outcomes expected from the organization’s mission such as:

  • X kids went to college
  • Y kids are reading at grade level
  • Z number of previously homeless people have stable housing.

The Business of Generosity says, “Generosity is a heuristical practice. As a generosity community, we do something, see what happens and figure out what to do next at that point. Again and again and again.” Likewise for us as individual givers, we want to reinvest or not based on real progress and outcomes from our donations.

Make it a good one – a good investment that is!

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