Puttering around the house today as I baked and caught up on some DVR’d shows, I saw a commercial for Ronald McDonald House and I thought to myself, “what a truly awesome charity they are.” Providing safe housing and programs for parents, Ronald McDonald House programs are located near top children’s hospitals, allow parents who are far from home to stay close to their hospitalized child and benefit from the comforts of home without incurring hotel and food costs. It’s one of those places that if I were a gazillionaire, I would donate to in a heartbeat.
Tis the season for donations and donation requests. Every check out lane you go to you are often prompted or asked if you’d like to contribute to that store’s charity of choice. It’s hard to say no but it’s also hard to say yes to everyone and every need. Don’t get me wrong, I really like to donate to worthy causes, but the constant petitioning sometimes leaves me a little, well, uncharitable. And if I get one more packet of return address labels from a nonprofit asking for donations in the mail I’m going to scream!
So, how should one choose what charities to donate to? Most experts say the most important criteria is that you have a personal connection to it. You want to be able to not only donate resources, but your heart as well. I think of The Dog Alliance’s “Hounds for Heroes” program, which I donated to and volunteered at for years. I was passionate about the place and their mission until they made it just to difficult to do so and changed some of their vision as a whole. I still support “Hounds for Heroes” but my passion for the rest has somewhat waned. This is what nonprofits risk when they change and vocalize perhaps too much.
Most charitable organizations will agree that time is just as important as donating money and it’s nothing to be ashamed of if you simply can’t afford to give money. The first thing you should think about prior to making any charitable donations is your financial stability. Things like paying off debt, contributing to a savings plan, having adequate insurance, and building an emergency cash reserve should all be taken care of prior to considering donating any amount of money. Until then, that charity is sure to welcome your time and talents.
There are so many charities that unless you have those you support and hold dear to your heart, it can be challenging finding one or more that fit your values and lifestyle. And, many of them are making tons of money despite the constant plea for help. Forbes magazine conducts an annual survey of America’s top 100 Charities based solely on private contributions and as luck would have it, released the 2022 survey yesterday. The Top 10 charities are:
- Feeding America – $4.6 billion
- United Way – 2.77 billion
- St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital – $2.42 billion
- The Salvation Army – $2.34 billion
- Direct Relief – $2.21 billion
- Americares – $1.22 billion
- Good 360 – 1.68 billion
- Goodwill Industries – $1.44 billion
- YMCA of the USA – $1.41 billion
- Habitat for Humanity – $1.27 billion
As I read this list, a few things came to mind. Number one, considering we are in a recession there’s a whole lot of money being donated! Not until #14, with Samaritan’s Purse at $953 million, was the total donated not in the billions. Also, I hate to admit it, but I look at this list and as I consider where to give this Christmas, those at the top of the list and taking in billions are probably not going to make my list of potential recipients. Somewhat surprising was that numbers 5, 6, and 7 are in the “International Needs” category. I don’t know about you, but I see and hear about a ton of needs right here inside our borders. Lastly, I was happy to see Samaritan’s Purse so high on the list, as they do critical and amazing work, and I was equally happy to see Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Catholic Charities come in at numbers 11 and 13, respectively. Both are important to our family. My husband spent much of his childhood inside his hometown’s Boys Club and as cradle Catholics, charities that align with our faith always align with our contributions.
With that being said and barring any natural disaster, I like my money to stay local and/or personal. Each year my husband and I make what we consider hefty donations to two charities each and one joint. We focus on our interests and how our lives have been impacted by certain organizations and go from there.
In the past and possibly again this year, recipients have been:
- First Tee of Greater El Paso
- Painting Pandas
- Tunnel to Towers
- Faith-related charities, including our church, Mobile Loaves & Fishes, Carmelites of Santa Fe, and Annunciation Home.
- Both of our alma maters, Niagara University and The University of Oklahoma, often times NU’s golf team and OU’s School of Journalism. We’ve also donated to our daughter’s sorority in the past.
- Dog-related charities, including Houston Hound and Beagle rescue, where we’ve rescued two of our beagles; The Dog Alliance and their wonderful “Hounds for Heroes” program; and my new-found charity, Living Grace Ranch, which provides a permanent residence for senior canines (homeless, abandoned, rehomed, or surrendered) that otherwise would live out their lives in municipal animal shelters or foster care programs.
- Boys and Girls Club of East Aurora, NY
- Scottish Rite Hospital of Dallas
As I mentioned earlier, if I had millions and in addition to all of the above, I’d also give to:
- The Caring Place
- Hope Alliance
- BiG at Brookwood
- Breakthrough Austin
- Ronald McDonald House
- Wounded Warriors
- Family Research Council
- Make A Wish
Most of my giving is of local or smaller in nature mainly because I know where our hard-earned money is going. I don’t want to pay for those address labels mailed to me; I want to pay for programs and services. One way to somewhat guarantee this happens is to give to a local chapter of a big charity or nonprofit as those funds may hopefully stay local and not end up in a national headquarters’ red tape wheel. Again, do your research!
Notice I wrote “charity or nonprofit” in the above paragraph. Even though the two are often used interchangeably, there are important differences between the two and the differences might make a difference in where you choose to donate.
A nonprofit is a type of charitable organization or foundation created for a specific goal and purpose other than to make a profit. Oftentimes this involves furthering a social cause such as improving literacy rates or helping those experiencing unplanned pregnancies. But, the term “nonprofit” doesn’t mean the organization can’t make a profit. It can use donations to pay employees and cover operating costs but if it brings in more money than it needs to do so, those excess funds must be used to further its said goals. Additionally, nonprofits can be trusts, corporations, or associations and whether a company qualifies as a nonprofit may differ between states.
A charity is actually a type of nonprofit organization that exists to benefit the community or serve a social or philanthropic purpose. It is a business created to raise money and help those in need and serves a specific cause and often provides a free service to the public through the use of funds raised. All charities are nonprofits and must meet certain IRS criteria.
Then there are philanthropies and foundations.
A philanthropy addresses the root cause of social issues and seeks long-term approaches. In addition to giving money or volunteering, some philanthropists participate in advocacy work. You could say charity is a short-term fix while philanthropy is a long-term commitment. That’s not always the case but often applies. Another way to think of it is that charity results in direct relief of suffering while philanthropy seeks out the root causes creating the suffering and tries to find strategic solutions. Philanthropy is focused on rebuilding and charity is focused primarily on rescue and relief.
A foundation is a charitable trust or nonprofit created to fund other organizations or individuals for charitable purposes, often by providing grants. Some foundations also participate in charitable programs or activities.
Interestingly, the original meaning of charity was “Christian love of one’s fellow” and is rooted in Old English. When “charity” entered the English lexicon by way of Old French’s “charite,” it evolved into the word we are familiar with today.
If you are blessed with plentiful resources to give this holiday season, know that it’s not only the season of giving but the season of scams. To avoid getting duped, follow your philanthropic passions but be sure to research that the charity you’re considering is efficient, ethical, and effective. Once you find the perfect one for you, make sure that 100 percent or at least the majority of your gift will go to their programs and not administrative costs. A good rule of thumb is to focus your donations on those charities that give no less than 75 percent of donations to programs and leave a scant 25 percent for overhead costs
The best advice I can give is to open your heart and give with only the best intentions to only the most deserving and in need organizations. Even the smallest donation will be appreciated and don’t forget your time and talents. Tis the season and part of the reason.