Washington, D.C.—The last quarter of the year, known as the "giving season," is a crucial time for both charities and donors. Half of the nonprofits that participated in a 2010 fundraising survey reported that they receive the majority of contributions during the last three months of the year, and online giving has peaked at the end of December in recent years.
An uncertain economy gives the 2011 giving season special importance. "In down economic times, philanthropy is more important than ever, and so is the hard-earned money of donors across country," said Bob Ottenhoff, president and CEO of GuideStar, the leading source of nonprofit information. "Donors want to be confident that the money they give is being put to the best possible use. No matter how large or small the donation, donors want to know that their money is making an actual difference for the causes they support. Research is the only way to ensure confidence. It's also a great strategy for dealing with holiday fund-drives and preventing last-minute impulse giving."
GuideStar offers the following five tips to help donors get the most out of their end-of-year charitable giving:
- Clarify values and preferences.
What do you value? Do you have an artistic streak? Do you love animals? Have you lost a friend or family member to a terminal illness? Consider the type of charity that you'd have the best connection with—small or large, new or old, local or national or even international—and that makes you feel good about aligning your donations with your values.
- Focus on the mission.
GuideStar is a great resource to find the charity that meets your values. Look up a specific nonprofit in GuideStar's database of 1.8 million organizations, or use the advanced search to find charities by category, size, and location. Once you found a nonprofit that interests you, dig a bit deeper into the organization's GuideStar profile, visit the nonprofit's Web site, or look into recent press articles or media mentions of the organization to learn more about the organization's mission and programs. You'll find expert reviews compiled by Philanthropedia, a subsidiary of GuideStar, on www.myphilanthropedia.org and stakeholder reviews for many charities on GuideStar and GreatNonprofits.org. GuideStar's TakeAction resource center provides information on more than 25 international, national, and local causes as well as expert analyses of specific organizations working in those causes.
Verify a charity's legitimacy.
With a glance at a nonprofit's report on GuideStar, you can find out if it is a legitimate tax-exempt organization. Nonprofits that do not meet IRS criteria are flagged.
- If the charity is not on GuideStar, ask to see its letter of determination.
- If the organization is faith-based (churches and other religious nonprofits are not required to file anything with the IRS), ask to see its official listing in a directory for its denomination.
Get the cold, hard facts.
A reputable organization will:
- Define its mission and programs clearly.
- Have measurable goals.
- Use concrete criteria to describe its achievements.
- Discuss its programs and finances.
- Not use pressure tactics.
- Be willing to send you literature about its work or direct you to a Web site.
- Take "no" for an answer.
And don't forget the stakeholder reviews found on GuideStar and GreatNonprofits and the expert analyses on Philanthropedia and in GuideStar's TakeAction resource center.
- Trust your instincts.
If you still have doubts about a charity, don't contribute to it. Instead, find another nonprofit that does the same kind of work and with which you feel comfortable, and donate to that organization instead. Remember that even a small donation makes a difference. And, last but not least, charities need support year-round. Why not make a commitment to give $10 a month to the charity of your choice for the next year rather than one big gift now?
"Giving wisely is as important a message as giving charitably," added Ottenhoff. "High-performing nonprofits—those that are making the biggest impact—deserve the most support."
For donors who want to give with their heads as well as their hearts, research is the best way to make sure their money is going to the right place. Resources such as GuideStar and Philanthropedia are great places to start.
GuideStar, www.guidestar.org, connects people and organizations with information on the programs and finances of more than 1.8 million IRS-recognized nonprofits. GuideStar serves a wide audience inside and outside the nonprofit sector, including individual donors, nonprofit leaders, grantmakers, government officials, academic researchers, and the media.
Lindsay J.K. Nichols