By Tim Mabry
If you are like me, you may know what it’s like to be overwhelmed with solicitations for financial support from worthy nonprofit organizations, especially at year-end. Early in my career, I got lucky: A wise mentor advised me to be as thoughtful about my personal and family giving as I was about my company’s finances.
Here are some ideas I’ve shared with other community-minded philanthropists.
Ask yourself the key questions. What’s a realistic budget for charitable contributions? And, given my current and likely future available resources, where do I think I can make the greatest impact?
1. Don’t wait for organizations (and causes) to find you. Do some homework to evaluate the vision and effectiveness of groups you’re considering, then connect with them in ways that make the most sense. Sometimes, it’s good to link with organizations that align directly with your work. That’s why home improvement retailers have supported Habitat for Humanity and why tech firm owners give hardware and software to schools and colleges. You’ll be far more invested in their success if you pick the right partners.
2. Determine the best sources of information. Charity Navigator and GuideStar are two readily accessible online sources of intelligence about the structure and performance of many nonprofit organizations, but they don’t evaluate and rate everyone. Ask trusted experts about what groups are really doing the best work on multiple measures: breadth and depth of effective services, financial management, leadership, innovation, community support and involvement, sustainability, etc.
3. Make gifts that satisfy both your heart and your head. Over time, figure out what really inspires you and commit to giving most generously there. If some of your biggest clients/customers really love animal shelters, supporting them is probably a good way to demonstrate both affinity and loyalty. But the real key to long-term success and satisfaction is to give honestly, not solely for ulterior motives.
4. Leverage your resources. There are many simple ways to make your money go farther. For example, consider making a match challenge to other individuals and businesses who care about the same things you do. And investigate how “aggregators” such as community foundations can effectively pool donor dollars to increase the number and size of grants, scholarships and other forms of support.
5. Fewer may be better. As the old saying goes, if you’re thirsty, it’s better to fill up a few cups than put one drop in a thousand. You’ll achieve the greatest return on investment with deeper, longer-term commitments, not with a flavor-of-the-month approach. And, if you have a solid giving strategy in place, it’s much more reasonable to decline opportunities that don’t fit the profile.
6. Involve employees and other supporters. Let staff members give you input on what causes and groups are most important to them. Even owners of micro-businesses often match their employees’ donations up to a certain limit. Also, consider creating fun and meaningful staff volunteer activities such as a nonprofit facility clean-up or a holiday food drive.
7. Contribute things other than money. Time, talent, treasure — everyone has some of each. Once you’ve identified who you want to support, constantly inventory what you have to give that matches up best with what’s needed. In addition to cash, you may want to join a nonprofit’s board or host a get-to-know brunch for potential donors.
8. Think outside the “collection box.” Many organizations, religious and secular alike, rely on donors who commit to making regular contributions. But, every once in a while, it’s good to check around and see if there are emerging groups meeting new and more critical needs.
9. Ask for help when you need it. If doing all the research and legwork associated with creating and managing a philanthropy program seems daunting — especially while you’re trying to run or manage a business — think about tapping into the expertise of The Oregon Community Foundation at www.oregoncf.org. It has helped thousands of business owners make this a great place to live and work.
One final thought. Although you may want to use charitable giving to enhance the visibility and reputation of your company, not all donations need to be publicly acknowledged. Many cultural traditions teach that the most rewarding gifts are made quietly.
Tim Mabry president Credits Incorporated based in Hermiston and is chairman of the board for The Oregon Community Foundation.