How To Choose an Organization to Donate to: GiveBig Seattle 2013

Give Big, which is happening tomorrow, Wednesday, May 15, is a one-day, online giving event sponsored by the Seattle Foundation and its partners, to inspire people to give generously to nonprofit organizations in the Seattle area. Last year the fundraiser raised $8.8 million!

From Seattle Foundation website

From Seattle Foundation website

If you are trying to start your own giving practice and are interested in donating, but aren’t quite sure where to give your money, it can be overwhelming try to figure that out. In the last few weeks, I have received numerous emails from various nonprofits I have supported over the years, announcing their participation in GiveBig and entreating me to participate. I can imagine that due to the sheer volume of emails you get, you might just ignore them.

You can certainly check out the incredibly long list of nonprofits, each having a link to its own website. This list is alphabetical, which, on the one hand, can be helpful if you already have an organization in mind.  On the other hand, the Foundation’s online Giving Center includes information and evaluations of more than 1,400 nonprofit organizations working on a broad range of issues: Arts & Culture, Basic Needs, Economy, Education, Environment, Health & Wellness, Global Giving, and Neighborhoods & Communities. Using the Giving Center, I believe, would be more helpful for potential donors who are not quite sure yet what issue they want to support.

I think there are people out there (maybe you, especially if you are reading this!) who want to help, but are turned off by the enormity of the task ahead. Wading into a morass of nonprofits who are all trying to do the best they can with what they have, is enough to make the most intrepid donor-wanna-be flee. If you already know who you are donating to, great! Any amount helps- even $5!

I’ve put together a guide to outline the steps you can take to pick the cause you want to support. My hope is that it will make the process easier and less anxiety-provoking! All you readers not living in Seattle: this guide can be used for your own community.

Your feelings about the cause you most care about can change over time, from week to week, month or month, or over the course of the year. And that’s totally ok. Go with whatever you groove to most, in this moment. You can use these steps in any way  you want- in any order or only some of them.

Step 1: Involve your significant other, friends, or family. It can be more fun to have someone else or several people to join in with you in your giving practice. Involving children is a wonderful way to get them interested in issues beyond their backyard. You could have a family meeting where you discuss the issues each of you cares about.

Step 2: Pick the location of the issue you care most about: local, national, or international.

Step 3: Decide what issue(s) you care most about. It is possible to give to more than one organization, especially if it’s a tie between several issues (and you want to avoid disappointing your children!). The Seattle Foundation’s Giving Center has an excellent breakdown of the “elements”.

Step 4: Pick the method of service delivery you prefer. Organizations have different strategies for working on their issues: research, advocacy, training/education, program development, and community building, to name a few.

Step 4: If you want to take this another step further, do some research and ask questions. Google is your best friend. Every well-established organization will have a website where all the information is at your fingertips. And again, the Giving Center has evaluations and information about all registered 1400 nonprofits. Here are some sample questions:

  1. Sources of funding: Where does the organization get the bulk of its money? From large foundations (ie. Gates) or primarily individual donors giving a range of amounts? If you want to support organizations that depend heavily on individual donors but only a few large foundations, that will narrow the choosing field.
  2. Organizational structure: How many staff and volunteers work there? Some organizations have 1-2 staff and their programs are primarily volunteer-run.
  3. Does the organization work closely with community partners or is this a sole operation? Working with community partners demonstrates a good leverage of resources and funding.
  4. Look at the annual report. This gives you a good idea how well organized an organization is. Are there stories of impact? Do you have a good idea of the types of programs delivered? Is the report well-written? Do they have a good fundraising track record?
  5. Is the organization well-known or does it get very little media coverage? Generally, those organizations that don’t get attention have smaller budgets and their outreach is limited.
  6. What will your donation be used for? Funds can go for general operating support (staff salaries and basic program maintenance) or more specific things like materials, training, workshops, etc.

Step 5: Decide how much money you want to donate.  If this is your first donation of the calendar year, kudos to you! If you are planning to make several donations throughout the year or make a year-end donation around the holidays, you can work with a financial advisor to help with this or keep it very simple. It’s a very personal decision and there is no right or wrong answer.

Step 6: Choose the organization you want to support. This link has a list of the organizations participating in GiveBig.

This may seem daunting and even overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. If you want to make well-informed decision about where your dollars are going, take the time to research your options. You may know right off the bat where you want to donate, and I encourage you to research that organization(s) carefully. There are tons of good ones out there! Again, any amount you give makes a difference.

Good luck and let me know how it went and if you have any other ideas!

Sowing the seeds for your giving practice!

Sowing the seeds for your giving practice!

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