There are countless worthy causes in the world that you may be moved to address and even more excellent charities working to make an impact on each of them. Should you really just choose a few organizations to support and stick with them? In short: Yes.
Why Does Loyalty Matter to Charities?
Being loyal to a small handful of charities — or even just one — is better than spreading your donations across every organization you come across. Consistent, recurring donations provide charities with stability. Knowing that your donation is coming next week, next month, or next year can help that charity plan for the future. Most charities struggle with uncertain budgets, which makes them less likely to push forward ambitious projects for fear of overextending themselves. Gifts given randomly are always welcome, but sustained giving is what charities need to thrive.
While it may be tempting to put off the hard choices and continue to give here and there as the urge strikes, focusing on a loyalty strategy is the best way for you as an individual to make a difference. Spreading your giving around to many organizations dilutes the potential impact of your dollars.
Develop a Loyalty Strategy
If you are going to choose a small group of charities to be loyal to, you should make sure that they are the best fit for your giving goals. These steps help you narrow your choices and feel good about your long-term strategy. Before you start, gather all those you want to be involved in the process. If giving is a joint decision with your partner, go through these steps together. If you have children, bringing them into the decision-making process is a great way to get them excited about giving and to build life-long giving habits.
Decide What Your Giving Budget Can Support
The point of loyalty to a charity is to maximize your impact by making a sustained difference for that organization. Therefore, maintaining loyalty to many organizations is not recommended. There is no hard and fast rule for this, but generally, larger giving budgets can support more organizations. With exceptions for the ultra-rich, we recommend supporting one to five charities consistently.
Choose Your Issue Area(s)
Start by listing all the issue areas you would like to support. A review of your previous giving may help you fill out this list. Then, begin to narrow down this list in order of priority. If you are doing this exercise as a family, allow everyone to cast votes and see which issue areas rise to the top. Keep in mind your decision from the previous step. If you plan to support just one organization, you must narrow your list considerably. You may be able to include multiple issue areas by selecting a charity working at the intersections of multiple issues. For example, environmental charities often address social and economic issues in tandem with their ecological goals.
Find Your Scope and Location
Now that you know what issues you want to address, consider the scope on which you want to address this issue. Do you want to change the world? The country? The state? The local community? There are organizations working to make a difference at all of these levels. Your issue area may influence what level you want to work on. If you plan to support multiple organizations, you can also choose to work at multiple levels within the same issue area. For example, you may choose a hunger organization providing services on the ground in your area and a charity working to build a national food system that serves the needs of all residents.
Similarly, consider where you want to make an impact. Do you want to improve your community? You may know of another community with greater need. Decide where you feel your money can do the most good.
Choose Your Ideal Charity Size
This is a subjective choice and may not be a factor you usually consider. There are different schools of thought on this choice. One school of thought is that your donation will be a more significant percentage of a small organization’s budget. Therefore, the marginal impact of your donation is greater for a small charity. A conflicting theory argues that a small donation, in combination with many other donations, can make more of an impact by funding a large organization that benefits from economies of scale. Both of these arguments are valid, and you may be swayed by one or the other or find yourself indifferent. We know that while large organizations create some efficiency, small organizations often make a big impact with very few resources. Small organizations are often deeply embedded in the communities they serve and are, therefore, closer to the issues impacting those communities.
Hone in on Specific Charities
Once you know the issue area(s) you want to address and the scope of your focus, it is time to find specific charities to support. There may be charities that you have supported in the past that match your giving goals. If you are interested in finding new charities to support, Charity Navigator’s search allows you to sort by issue area, location, size, and rating to find your perfect match. You can also search specific organizations to vet them before giving.
Make Your Final Choices
Look at the list of charities that you have made. Does it match what you said you wanted to accomplish in the first three steps? Is anything missing? If you are happy with your list, move on to the next step.
If something is missing from your list, go back through the previous steps to fill the gap. If your list is too long, it is time for a trim. Think hard about your top priorities and what you most want to accomplish through your giving. This step is the hardest; don’t be surprised if it is the most time-consuming part. If you are working in a group setting, this may include an extended debate. You can move on to the next step when everyone is happy with the final list.
Plan Your Giving
Don’t let the work you’ve put into selecting your charity or charities go to waste! You can make your first donation today, but loyalty goes beyond a single donation. Decide how much and how often you are going to give. If multiple organizations and/or issue areas are involved, think about how much you want to allocate for each.
You can set up recurring donations to automate your giving, ensuring your loyalty doesn’t rely on remembering to give at regular intervals. Many charities facilitate recurring giving. The Giving Basket allows you to set up and manage recurring donations to multiple charities in one convenient place. Monthly or quarterly donations are a great way to show your loyalty and support to a charity.
Review Your Choices
Your loyalty should not be unquestioning. Each year, review the charity or charities that you support and make sure that you still believe in the work that they are doing. Over time, some organizations may experience mission drift. As leadership changes, you may find the organization no longer aligns with your passions and values. You might change your mind about supporting an organization for many reasons, and all of them are valid. If you are no longer interested in supporting a charity, stop your donations and reallocate those funds to another organization. You may choose to increase your giving to another charity you already support or find a new nonprofit that better aligns with your values and expectations.
Focusing your giving is hard when there are endless asks for donations and so many you believe in, but it is worth your while. You can make more of an impact by being loyal to just a few charities.