The end-of-year giving season is approaching and Franklin County’s more than 13,000 registered non-profit organizations are busily preparing a virtual maelstrom of donor solicitations.
With all that information coming at them, donors may find it difficult to decide which organizations to grant stewardship of their money. Fortunately, local non-profit executives say, there are steps donors can take to help make that decision.
Researching a charity and finding one that benefits something you are passionate about are the first steps, said the experts.
“The critical thing and the best place to start is thinking through your own story and what have been the major themes in your life,” Jessica Boyd, Columbus market manager for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund, said. “Another line of thinking is your personal values and thinking about the future. What do you want the world to look like?”
Dan Sharpe, vice president of community research and grants management at the Columbus Foundation, echoed that view.
“It’s best if donors are able to have some sense of their personal passions,” Sharpe said. “Then they are able to narrow their research based on what they really care about.”
Beyond looking within, there are many other ways to determine which nonprofit to choose by, for example, examining a nonprofit’s impact. All nonprofits are required to file a Form 990 and financial data with the Ohio Secretary of State. There are also several online services that consolidate that information and use it to evaluate organizations.
Ryan Love, vice president of resource development for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio, said those resources, plus an organization’s own website, are a good place to start.
“You should be able to see their impact in a measurable, quantifiable way,” Love said. “I guess what I am getting at is transparency. Your money should be used in an effective way and be stewarded well by the people you are giving it to.”
Focus your giving
With so many charities to choose from, potential donors may be tempted to spread their giving budget among multiple non-profits. That strategy is fine, the experts said, but to make the most impact concentrate on a single charity or cause.
JDRF’s Boyd suggests limiting the number of organizations or causes to which one gives to no more than three.
“It gives you enough of a focus that you can be strategic with your philanthropy and really make some impactful donations,” Boyd said. “When you focus your giving, it gives the charity the ability to really do good work.”
Also, giving your donation is just the beginning, not the end, of the relationship between an organization and a donor.
Love said, “you are, as the donor, initiating the relationship based on what you care about, It is up to that non-profit organization to carry the baton from then on.”
That communication should begin with a thank you note, not another solicitation to donate, he added.
“I would be wary of an organization that didn’t send me a thank you within 48 hours of a donation,” he said. “I think that is pretty standard and reasonable in today’s world. If you’re not getting a thank you in two days, that’s an organization that could be having some difficulties behind the scenes that will ultimately affect the programming.”
Regardless of which non-profit organization donors are supporting, Sharpe said, it is important that people be as generous as possible this year.
“If donors are thinking about their giving, they need to be as generous as they can because, all the way down the line, the organizations they are supporting have increased needs and the community they are serving has increased needs,” Sharpe said. “The landscape has changed drastically,” he added. “There are the immense needs of those they are serving and the organizations themselves have needs too. In March and April 2020, many of them had to make deep, deep cuts.”
Sharpe said many organizations are still digging out from those cuts. “Some are in triage mode where they are adding people to handle the increased need for services. Some had to bootstrap it all the way through the pandemic and hope their donors would come through.”
Miriam Segaloff is a freelance writer from Gahanna.