Give the Gift of Charity
By Laura Walker
The holiday season is known as the “Season of Giving.” We give gifts to friends and loved ones to show how much we care or to show some extra appreciation. Many families choose to give a “little extra” to help those in need or to support causes that are closest to their hearts. But before you give, make sure you know how your donations will be used so your gift can make the biggest impact.
When identifying a prospective charity to support, check with your state’s charity regulator to see how a nonprofit uses its donations and to ensure an organization is legitimate. In Mississippi, this is the Secretary of State’s Office (www.sos.ms.gov). Many regulators advise looking for charities where program expenses account for 75 percent or more of the organization’s spending; however, if an organization runs mostly on goods donations (such as food, clothing, toys, etc.), overhead expenses may appear high. In those cases, examining the organization’s annual report can help show how their donations are used and how many in their cause population are being helped by that organization. Annual reports are an excellent way organizations highlight their cause, impact, and often how their donations have been used over the last year.
After selecting a charity, look at your own time, talents, and resources to determine how you can best support an organization’s mission. Remember, most nonprofits rely on more than just monetary donations.
1) Donate your time. While every nonprofit can benefit from the donation of a dollar, your time and talents can be just as useful and important. Getting involved can also help you see first-hand the needs of the organization.
2) Collect discriminately. Speak with the nonprofit to determine the most immediate needs at the time you are looking to donate. Are they having a special drive or fundraising event? These will help you identify those critical needs and how you can make the biggest, immediate impact. Here are a few needs drive ideas depending on the type of organization you are supporting:
· Non-perishable foods
· Pet needs
· Gift cards
3) Designate your monetary donation as unrestricted. If you are supporting a responsible organization, you already know a high percentage of every dollar goes to support its mission. Restricting how a donation can be used can cause needs to go unanswered. Supporting a nonprofit with a proven track-record will help put your mind at ease knowing that donations will be used responsibly and go toward the greatest needs at the time they arise.
Crafting a holiday tradition to include giving back is a great way to create lasting and meaningful memories with your children and family. Find creative ways to get the kids involved so that giving back becomes an important part of their lives that continues into adulthood. And if you are stumped on what to give someone who seemingly has everything, giving in their honor is a gift that continues to give and bless others.
While needs are great during the holidays, remember that the needs don’t simply disappear once the calendar page turns to a new year. Often times, needs are just as great and many nonprofits are working with less in the interim months to support them. Consider making a New Year’s resolution to support a cause you are passionate about, not just at the holidays, but all year long.
Laura Walker is a staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions. Canopy Children’s Solutions (Canopy) is a registered 501(c)3 with the Mississippi Secretary of State. The state’s most comprehensive nonprofit provider of children’s behavioral health, educational and social service solutions, Canopy is stringent in its use of charitable funds with more than 97 percent directly supporting solutions for families and children. Learn more at www.mycanopy.org.