As I mentioned in another article (“The Three Budget Overages I Never Question” – https://sowadime.com/2020/08/10/three-budget-overages-i-never-question/), charitable giving is one of the most important budget items for the Sow a Dime & Reap a Dollar household. It’s something my wife and I were taught to do as young children and something we prioritize every month. Hopefully everyone reading has similar sentiments about giving; if not, I would simply encourage you to consider if it’s a good fit within your current financial landscape. There are many worthy organizations that can use all the support they can get! The giving doesn’t end with money either—time and energy focusing on completion of tasks to help these organizations is just as important, if not more important, than having funding. Without volunteers, the staff and administration at a lot of these agencies couldn’t achieve their missions!
Beyond the choice to give or not to give, there is usually a series of questions most folks have about charitable giving. My goal in this article is to provide guidance around the important aspects of charitable giving that will lead to making the most impact.
The most important piece of advice I can give is to believe in the mission of the organization(s) you give to. If you don’t believe colonizing dachshunds on Mars is a worthwhile effort, don’t donate! Or if you think giving bullfrogs a spa day is a waste of time, find something that better mirrors your beliefs. These, of course, are fictional examples, but you’d be surprised at how outlandish some mission statements can be. If you don’t have strong beliefs about any organizations, see the next recommendation.
Unless you’re already reasonably educated on the organization, its funding sources, its staff and administration, outreach methodologies, and outcomes, then a healthy dose of research is in order to develop a clearer and more complete picture of the organization. Most of these agencies, at the very least, have literature available to help explain who they are and what they do. Most have websites, even if they’re simplistic. Spend a few minutes educating yourself; if you still feel unclear, give them a call. Most of these organizations have folks who would be happy to discuss their objectives with you.
Just like individuals, charitable organizations have reputations. Pay attention to them! Some are spotless as a freshly waxed convertible, and others aren’t so squeaky clean for a variety of reasons. As an extension of the suggestion above, do some research and read what other folks say about these organizations. Are they spending money on activities that support the mission? Are they spending wisely and on targeted goods or services that provide demonstrable benefits to those who depend on that charity? What percentage of every dollar you donate goes directly to services versus into supporting overhead expenses?
Mission creep happens when organizations are unclear about what their mission truly is. Perhaps it wasn’t specific enough in the first place, so now they are taking on additional functions that seem tangentially related at best. Maybe there’s new leadership in the organization that wants to take it in a different direction; this is okay and happens from time-to-time, but the organization and its staff should still be able to clearly articulate what the current mission is and how they accomplish it.
This one can take some time to develop; most newly-founded charitable organizations aren’t firing on all cylinders in the first year or even the first few years of existence. Perhaps they need to build an adequate donor base (if their core funding doesn’t come from grants or other avenues) or identify target beneficiaries—those don’t happen overnight. But over time, successful and impactful charities should be very consistent in the execution of their mission.
In the end, what is most important is that you give to charities that are impactful in the community, whether that’s locally, federally, or globally. The need is greater now than it’s been in decades, so please consider doing some homework and starting (or increasing) your charitable giving!