This week’s word is: CHARITY.
public provision for the relief of the needy – Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary
In the wake of a tragedy like the Japanese tsunami, the interests of the American people turn to charity. Seeing horrors on that scale summons up a strong desire to help, to provide some form of relief. It happened during the Haitian earthquake, the Indonesian tsunami, and hurricane Katrina as well, at least to some extent. It can be wonderful to see this instinct to provide aid manifest itself.
If you’re like me, you may want to help but be unsure of the best way to make your contribution. With each disaster, a new flurry of websites, tweets, Facebook pages, and text-your-dollars options materialize. How can you know how that money will be spent? The best option for those inclined to give is to participate in a community of giving. Find a place that meets your goals and values and channel your contributions through that resource.
There are many ways to donate and contribute. A wise donor will plan in advance rather than waiting for a crisis. Knowing your options before-hand will prepare you to contribute in the most beneficial way when the time comes. When looking for an organization to serve as your charitable partner, there are a number of things to consider.
- Why do you give? If you have specific causes that you support, you should direct your giving accordingly. If you have a more general sense of charity and want a trusted partner to push your money in the right direction, totally different organizations will be appropriate. For most people, a mix of the two might make the most sense.
- What is your capacity for giving? Budgeting may not be fun, but it is very important. Have a sense of how much money you can give over the course of a year and develop a donation strategy that fits. This will help keep you from overextending yourself, force you to focus on the giving that is most important to you, and allow you to politely turn down solicitation calls. If an organization that appeals to you is not in your plan, you can always adjust or collect their information for another giving year.
- Who can support your intent to give? There are thousands of charitable organizations of all sizes, missions, and services. Finding the best match for your goals can be daunting. Do some research to find the best partner for your giving. Charity Navigator is a great resource for getting information. Your workplace may also have giving and matching programs; talk to your human resources officer. Your local library should be able to assist you as well.
- How much of your donation goes to your intended causes? No organization can give 100% of donations to the causes it supports. Running a strong charity requires staff, facilities, and fundraising; all of this costs money. From my quick research, any organization that returns 85% – 90% to the cause you support is doing well. You should also be aware of the status of your charitable partner. If it is not a certified not-for-profit organization, the 10% that doesn’t go to the cause may just be lining someone’s pocket.
- How do the values of your charitable partner align with yours? This is very important and not always apparent. Many charities are associated with religious organizations or other groups which may not share your values regardless of how well their official cause matches your donor intent. A great example is the Salvation Army. Although the work they do is valuable, they are virulently anti-equality toward the LGBT community. The United Way, for example, is much more open and supportive. That makes a difference to me in who will get my donations.
The best advice from most experts – both financial planners and charitable organizations – is to donate a comfortable amount regularly rather than make sporadic, responsive donations. This gives your charitable partner cash-on-hand to respond immediately to a disaster rather than waiting for money to flow in. Most reputable charities will have a way to donate additional money to a specific cause as needed. (The Red Cross is a great example.) Increasing your contribution to a trusted partner is a better option than impulsively clicking on any donation link that you might see. Sadly, many miscreants exist who would love to reroute your donations to their own pockets.
sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress with a desire to alleviate it – Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary
Compassion is a wonderful human trait. When we respond emotionally to a crisis, however, it is worth stepping back and being sure that our giving has value.
- There is always need. Find ways to give regularly to important causes.
- When a disaster strikes, give in a smart, informed way.
Remember, too, that you can give in ways that don’t cost money. Give of your time and energy as well. Tikkun olam: Repair the world. Each of us should do what we can to make this a better world for everyone.