Like most residents in our area, we get our mail through a locked box at the post office instead of an unprotected one at the end of our street. A couple years ago I ran into an elderly friend there who was grumbling about the stack of envelopes she had just pulled out of hers. “Nothing here but gimmes,” she said. “Gimmes,” not “Give-Mes” was her name for the dozens of solicitation letters she received from charities, including many she had never heard of.
As the end of the calendar year approaches the number of solicitations we receive per day increases. They raise questions for all of us:
- How do we know if this is a legitimate charity?
- How do we know how much of the money they receive actually goes to the cause itself and how much goes to fundraising and salaries?
- How do we decide where to give when we can’t give to all of them?
The answers to the first two questions can often be found with a little on-line research. Charity Navigator and other impartial watchdog organizations do the research for you and their evaluations can be found on line. They will tell you how much an organization spends on fundraising and salaries and how much goes to the cause they are raising money for.
Deciding where to give your money is, of course, a personal decision but deciding in advance how much you can give away, whether it is $100 or $100,000 and having a system for making those decisions, simplifies the process and goes a long way toward taking the sting out of saying no to the organizations you can’t help. While there is more than one good system, we like the following one because it works well for us.
- Every January we review our financial obligations and our anticipated income for the year and decide what percentage of our income we are going to give away. Choosing a percentage works better than just picking an arbitrary amount would because it stretches us and gets us closer to being the generous people we want to be.
- We review the non-profits we have given to before and determine whether we want to continue helping them, or use our funds to help other charities that may be in greater need of assistance.
- We divide the funds we are allocating to charity three ways.
- The bulk of the funds go to the organizations we are working with on some level as volunteers. These are organizations we know enough about that we don’t have to research them to determine whether giving to them is a good use of our funds or not.
- Next we list organizations we want to recognize and support at some level, no matter how little that might be. Typically these are the organizations that we need to research on Charity Navigator because we don’t want any donation, no matter how small to be wasted.
- Finally, we set aside a small sum for emergency situations like the recent hurricane in Haiti and local flood relief. These we also research unless we are making our donations through an organization we already know and trust.
Once we determine how much we can allocate to each category, we can easily sort the “gimme” letters and it takes the sting out of saying no to the pile we throw away.
And one final note. No donation is too small to be appreciated. While big gifts are wonderful windfalls, it is the many small gifts of $5, $10 or $25 dollars that non-profits depend on year after year after year.