By Amanda Kelly
As human beings we’re always going to be touched by humanitarian crisis and to deny that call to action is almost to deny our own humanity. So let your heart be touched and open, but also be smart about how you react.”
It is without a doubt one of the more wonderful characteristics of our humanity to be moved to help others in times of crisis and great need; and yet, donors who want to have the most impact may find the process of making the most-informed philanthropic choice difficult.
In a recent interview with Legacy Arts, Charity Navigator’s CEO and President, Michael Thatcher, shed light on several ways that donors can leverage their time and resources to help the most people, and more easily navigate the path to intelligent giving.
Narrow the Scope of Your Interest
“There are many charities and it helps to be as specific as you can in what cause you wish to support. For example, if you want to help children, how do you want to help children? Is it in education, sports programs, the arts, disease affecting children? Try to be specific,” he says.
Once you’ve narrowed the scope of your search, it will be easier to select organizations that align with your charitable interests.
The next step is to engage with the organizations you find in your search. Thatcher recommends initiating conversation and if you’re in doubt about anything—from the charity’s methods to their finances—ask questions and be straightforward with them.
“If you have concerns about the financial stability of an organization, perhaps based on the information that surfaced from Charity Navigator’s ratings, get on the phone and talk to their people. Ask about what is going on. If you get a clear answer with a plan to address the problem, you’ll feel much more comfortable about investing in that organization.”
Limit Your Investments and Develop Long-term Relationships
Investing more resources in fewer places is another way to make a greater impact. “In the charitable sector, versus the private sector, the level of solicitation is higher. If donors are not careful, they might end up writing checks left and right—a practice that we discourage people from doing,” Thatcher says. “Determine the causes that you care about and then pick charities within those corresponding causes and be consistent and support those organizations.”
For some donors, this tactic might go against their inclination to diversify financial investments, but the predictability of reoccurring and regular donations are essential to the stability of organizations that are primarily donor-funded.
“It allows them to be more intentional in their work,” Thatcher explains. “Having that level of predictability and support is essential. It can change everything for an organization, from the ability to hire people and maintain programs, to impacting the causes you care about.”
Volunteerism and Donations
Volunteerism and in-kind donations are another common way to give back to your community. Thatcher says volunteerism and other forms of non-cash donations can be as effective as making cash donations, but engagement with charities is essential to making these contributions a success.
“Volunteering is great, as long as you’re doing so in the best interest of the charity,” he says. “Figure out what the organization needs and then do that. The mentality of ‘I want to do what I want to do,’ is not inherently helpful. People also tend to be fickle about volunteering, so if you make a commitment, show up on time and be ready for the work.”
For in-kind donations, he suggests initiating in a conversation before donating. This step will help determine what your charity needs the most in order to make their operation more effective, and ultimately result in the greatest impact to your cause. “It may cost them more money to get rid of your things so talk with them first and figure out what their greatest needs are.”
“Another thing to consider donating is your professional experience,” Thatcher adds. “Charities can under-invest in the development of their own people, and mentoring or coaching is a significant way support your cause. Mentoring is a level of engagement that a lot of people are not willing to take, but it can be a huge asset to an organization.”
Planned Giving and Bequests
Depending on where you are in your life cycle, bequests can greatly define your legacy and might be worth considering. “If you have developed a relationship with an organization over the years, it is an option that people often forget about,” says Thatcher. “Also in keeping with the idea of sustaining an organization, planned gifts over multiple years can assist an organization’s efforts over time.
At the end of the day part of what makes the relationship between donors and charitable organizations successful is trust. Once you find an organization to support and you’ve vetted them thoroughly, Thatcher emphasizes that it’s important to trust them.
“If your organization experiences difficulties, work with them, give them the benefit of the doubt,” he says. “Charities are going to have good years and bad years, we all do. In the end, philanthropy is something that truly differentiates us as human beings. When I see someone in need there is a part of me that is called to act. Charities fill a gap in addressing societal issues… there will always be areas in our society that are unprofitable for the private sector and areas that the government cannot reach and so these organizations are an essential part to the fabric of our society.”
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Michael Thatcher is the President and CEO of Charity Navigator, a 501 (c) (3) and the largest and most-utilized evaluator of other charities in the nation. Charity Navigator examines two broad areas of a charity’s performance—their financial health and their accountability and transparency— and turns that data into a rating system on its website, which is accessible for free. In 2015, Charity Navigator’s website had more than seven million visits by donors. Visit charitynavigator.org for more information.