To make the world you envision a reality, approach your philanthropic efforts with a clearly defined strategy that advances these goals. Developing an annual giving strategy that will carry you through the year, but we recommend that you revisit the plan as needed to make appropriate adjustments as your life changes, current events develop, and you learn from your experiences. Of course, this advice is just as relevant in June as it is in January. Your giving year can start whenever you are ready.
Here's what wed suggest you consider as you map out your annual philanthropic strategy:
Be selective and intentional
Narrowing down which organizations you want to support is a big decision. Reactive donations to a cause or crisis that resonates with you bring excitement, satisfaction, and pride. We are often heartened by the outpouring of support for charities on our Give Now lists, but if you wish for your giving to be as impactful as possible, consider these steps:
Make a list of the types of causes that resonate with you. Be broad if you have to, then narrow the list of causes to a handful. Remember, you may want to save the world, but you cannot expect to do it all yourself. So, be selective.
Think about location. Are you seeking to support charities addressing issues in your community, state, region, nation, or beyond?
Next, consider how much of your donation makes a difference, i.e., its impact on the lives of those the organization serves. In 2020, we began rolling out impact ratings on our nonprofit profiles with the intent to provide answers to the question, 'What has the organization been able to accomplish with the financial support received from donors, and is it cost-effective?' We assess points for a rating based on our criteria and methodology. If an organization is transparent, impact information will be publicly-available, including on its website, in its annual report, shared in its newsletters, and on its social media channels. We have learned through our research that donors are now hyper-aware of impact, and there is an expectation charities will be forthcoming with this information.
Is the organization that you seek to support engaging? By this we mean, do you feel that they provide you with opportunities to learn about what they’re doing? Do they encourage external ideas and act on these ideas occasionally? In other words, are they listening to you as a constituent? Even if they are not in direct, constant contact, do you feel that their communication leads you to believe that they’re improving on their programs and services so that there is a greater benefit?
Do your research, but without comprehension, it will be largely unhelpful
Our website has a plethora of information beyond the profiles of rated organizations with their Form 990 data, but do you understand what it all means? Remember, all charities do not operate the same and, therefore, all charities do not have the same financial distributions across their organization. There isn't a Form 990 apples-to-apples comparison. What one charity spends on programs and services, administrative overhead, including salaries, may be different from another. You may be able to look at cause areas similarly, but size matters. A relief organization with a $3 million budget is completely different from one with a $250,000 budget, even if they’re both providing services in the same location. Perspective is important. But there's more. Charity Navigator also provides donor resources with tips about how to protect yourself from falling afoul of fraudulent charities and explanations about nonprofit operations and definitions.
Finally, making bold decisions about one's charitable giving is important on your philanthropic journey. When faced with cautionary information, it is up to you to decide whether or not pursuing the support of an organization remains in its best interest. Charity Navigator provides such cautions in the form of Alerts. Charity Navigator Alerts present information about alleged or confirmed illegal activity or misconduct. The above are just a few examples of what should be a part of your standard research arsenal.
Become a sustaining donor, and you’ll be a charity’s best friend
It takes money to operate a charity, even if the organization is staffed by volunteers. Organizations look ahead at their fiscal year, and they make assessments about their programs and services, what their expenses will look like, and if there’s an emergency fund for unplanned circumstances, among other things. By having donors they can rely on every month, they’re able to make better decisions. When you see a request from an organization asking for a monthly commitment, consider doing so. This way, the organization knows how well its finances will flow during the year.
A one-time donation is always appreciated, of course, but automatic monthly giving or even quarterly giving (if this is an option) is even better. For example, instead of giving a one-time $60 donation, why not spread it out as a $5 donation over 12 months? Sustained giving makes the organization feel secure, and for you as a donor, you’ll know your money is earmarked for all the good the charity has planned on the calendar. Who wouldn't want to be a part of this?
As you envision what you’d like to see or accomplish, we hope that you’ll consider making these choices with your philanthropy. Charities rely on donors to help them to achieve the goals they've set out in their mission, but, by operating as a partner, you become more invested in the mission itself. Begin your journey on Charity Navigator for highly rated nonprofits that resonate with your values and passions.