A couple of months ago I attended a fundraising seminar. The speaker, Kim Klein, an expert in grassroots fundraising, stated that most people give because they’re asked to give.

Really? It’s that simple? (Simple, I said. Not easy.)

Playing the skeptic, I wanted first-hand knowledge of why givers give. So I posed this question to several of my LinkedIn groups: “What motivated you to make your most recent donation?” Sure enough, a personal invitation to donate to a friend or relative’s pet cause (and no, I’m not just referring to the Animal Humane Society) was the most commonly mentioned motivator.

But the responses proved that other factors came into play, too: commitment to the cause’s mission, ready access to goods to be donated, compassion in the face of crisis or disaster, easy online donation,  a desire to make the world a better place, to emulate a generous role model – or even, to be that role model.

The take-away for donors is that we should follow our hearts, but also research the organizations and develop a long-term giving strategy.

And for nonprofits it’s that multiple approaches should be used to develop a solid donor base. But don’t assume your cause message is enough to generate fulfillment. Include the call to action and always ask for the donation.

The LinkedIn responses to my question were by no means a scientific study. Yet they were rich, well-thought-out and varied, and I’d like to share a few with you:

“I GAVE BECAUSE …”

“… I was asked by someone special to me.”

“A friend was walking in the Humane Society’s Walk for Animals, so I felt like I was supporting both her and the cause.” – K.V.

“I got a direct appeal from a young friend for his involvement in a fund-raising event – walking in high heels as part of the International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault and Gender Violence. The donation part was easy – online with a credit card. I wanted to encourage his efforts.” – P.P.

“My son prompted our last few contributions. He is in kindergarten and had a lot of questions about Haiti and a child’s photo he saw raising awareness about The Smile Train. We were affected by hearing his view of things.” - L.O.

“A friend who has MS asked me for a contribution. Her husband also asked for a contribution; they were both participating in the MS Walk.” – A.B.

“The last two donations I made because people I knew requested them. One was even for a cause in which I don’t support, but I do support my friend and understand the synergy of reciprocal giving. You cannot underestimate the power of personal contact.” – K.L.

“Normally I give to friends’ endeavors, whether they are walking to raise awareness or starting their own theatre company. That personal piece is huge.” – M.C.

“…I’m committed to the cause.”

“I just gave $200 to the Phoenix Theatre Company. A friend of mine is on the board, and he took my wife and me to one of the group’s fund-raising events. We believe in the cause we gave to, which puts high school students in touch with the theater company and other venues for the arts in Phoenix. So, it was a combination of a personal invitation and being impressed by the cause.” – P.F.

“Most of my donations over the past several months have been to organizations involved in aiding the victims of the earthquake in Haiti and … in the Tibetan region of China. I am a regular supporter of Doctors Without Borders, so I increased my donation to them. I also saw a piece on the work Sean Penn is doing in Haiti and donated to his organization.” – L.Y.

“…I followed someone’s example.”

“My 12-year-old son used his gift money to purchase a book at the local book store for a children’s hospital book drive. When I asked him what motivated him to do that he said he watched someone in front of him do it.” – B.Z.

“…I have the resources to donate goods/time.”

“I frequently donate small amounts to charities due to personal connections…someone I know is involved in the cause (Humane Society Walk for Animals, MS bike-a-thon, Walk for the Cure, collecting for American Lung Assoc.) OR charities where I can donate stuff (clothing, household items, box tops and soup labels, hand-made items for auction). I’m actually more likely to give to these types of charities than to donate to organizations (colleges, hospitals) where I would like to make donations but hold back because I feel like a donation of less than $100 would be too pathetic.” – T.B.

“I’m a big fan of ARC’s Value Village (great second-hand store, and supports people with developmental disabilities), volunteer a lot of time at WomenVenture (LOVE helping women succeed and get ahead in life), and recently co-hosted an accessories exchange party with some girlfriends, with all of the extra accessories donated to the new local chapter of Dress for Success.” – K.W. 

“…I responded spontaneously.”

“It has a lot to do for me with impulse. If the timing is just right, I’m likely to give to a random organization that has a compelling mission.” – J.L. 

“…I already volunteer with the organization.”

“After losing my job last year, I made a decision to give of my time more – but still find myself making financial contributions to the place for which I volunteer as well – as being involved helps me to understand their need even more.” – T.W.

“…I want to change the world for the better.”

“I tend to give of time and financial resources to efforts that are focused on change that is both fundamental to the whole person and that is sustainable.” – M.C.

“My tag line and the way I think about giving is – leveraging human and economic resources for the common good.” – L.H.  

“Most of my donations go to organizations that I believe are making important improvements in our world. Some of these improvements are taking place at more basic levels (access to food and shelter) while others are more involved (medical research).” – D.B.

“…it was part of my giving strategy.”

“Yes, we have a ‘strategy’ about our giving – giving to the causes that we believe in and that hopefully make this a better world. We also leave a percentage of our dollars for causes that we know will come up throughout the year such as fundraisers and walk-a-thons and that sort of thing.” – J.T.

“…I seek to alleviate pain.”

“A single woman who lost her job and had no health insurance was diagnosed with cancer. I attended a fundraiser for her.” – P.L.

“I guess in all events I attempt to tie giving to the ongoing effort of removing pain in all its forms. All of us, all around the world, have felt the rug pulled out from under ourselves…. I contribute my resources, time and effort to things that allow us to weave bigger rugs under each other…. When I position my heart, mind and effort to removing pain I stop being concerned with idealism, I just try to keep weaving rugs and sometimes I notice someone is weaving on mine.” – D.K.

- LuAnne Speeter

The majority of consumers believe businesses are responsible for having a greater social purpose beyond profit. According to a recent study by Cone, 65% of respondents concur that businesses have a shared responsibility to address and solve today’s social and environmental issues through a blending of social initiatives and business operations.

Respondents who believed businesses should actively share in social responsibility were categorized by Cone accordingly:

Emotionalists (22%): “Businesses should support larger social or environmental issues by donating products, money or volunteering.”

Advocates (20%): “Businesses should not only support but advocate for change in larger social or environmental issues by increasing awareness of the issue and donating products or services, money or volunteering.”

Activists (23%): “Businesses should change the way they operated to align with greater social and environmental needs.”

The study also indentified those who were less receptive or even opposed to shared responsibility:

Pacifists (24%): “Businesses may play a limited role in the community in which they are based, but are not necessarily responsible for supporting social or environmental issues.”

Disbelievers (11%): “Businesses exist to make money for shareholders and are not responsible for supporting social or environmental issues.” (See “Does corporate social responsibility lead to higher profits – or vice versa?”)

The study found that consumers expect companies to be accountable for participating in a large range of issues, including:

  • Ensuring product safety and quality (92%)
  • Ensuring worker health and safety (92%)
  • Ensuring proper product disposal/recycling (89%)
  • Ensuring human rights (87%)
  • Reducing energy and emissions to combat climate change (84%)
  • Preserving natural resources (84%)
  • Ensuring availability and access to safe water (83%)
  • Promoting diversity (81%)
  • Protecting threatened and endangered species (75%)
  • Minimizing disease (72%)
  • Improving nutrition and combating obesity (69%)
  • Alleviating poverty (62%)

So what are the expectations of small businesses when it comes to shared responsibility? Many of the issues shown above – such as access to safe water, minimizing disease, alleviating poverty – are viewed as global concerns and therefore seem to be more reasonable “assignments” for larger or multinational corporations. But does that mean smaller companies are “off the hook”?

It makes sense that the way a business shares responsibility should reflect the company’s size, vision, mission and reach. While a large company, such as General Mills, can have considerable impact on a broad scale (it donated $90.7 million in 2009 toward programs that alleviate hunger, improve nutrition, and support education, social services, arts and culture), a small company can proportionately have the same kind of impact on its neighborhood.

Draw from your immediate market to see the needs and address the problems. For example, do you own a small, local restaurant that attracts a large number of elderly people for the “early bird specials”? Chances are, there are also many older citizens in your community who are isolated and alone. Engage your customers and employees to support and volunteer at neighborhood outreach programs serving the elderly. Or, if you own a sporting goods store, consider “adopting” a school football team in a nearby low-income area and donate uniforms and equipment.

Consumers want to share the responsibility, too, and be involved in the solutions. In fact, the Cone study found that, if a company incorporated their ideas, consumers say they would be more likely to buy its products and services (60%), more loyal (54%) and more likely to recommend the company (51%). Engage your customers in your efforts by mentioning cause partnerships in ads, inviting followers through Facebook and Twitter, developing in-store signage, including information in your e-newsletter and sponsoring events.

- LuAnne Speeter

In this era of Toyota and British Petroleum, it’s clear that a corporation’s brand name and legacy rest on far more than its products or services.  

In fact, you can produce the greatest widget this side of the Atlantic, but if you fall short of the consumer’s expectations in terms of customer service, product safety, environmental stewardship, social responsibility and/or employee respect, your commercial success will eventually suffer.

Today’s consumer is more conscientious than ever and expects the companies they patronize to be conscientious, too. According to a 2008 survey by Euro RSCG Worldwide, consumers base their purchasing habits on how well a business aligns its values with theirs:

(Click graph to enlarge.)

Consumers hold corporations accountable not only for what their brands promise, but in addressing societal and environmental concerns. Why? According to the same study, respondents agreed that corporations have benefited substantially in their business dealings, but have largely failed to “pay back” the consumers and communities that supported their growth.

“Good for Business: The Rise of the Conscious Corporation” (2009, Palgrave Macmillan) sets out to teach companies what they should know and do in order to be in the good graces of consumers – that is, take on a more engaged social role, which would potentially spur optimal growth and greater success. Co-authored by Andrew Benett, Cavas Cobhai, Ann O’Reilly and Greg Welch, “Good for Business” spells out four principal undertakings that form the cornerstones of a conscious corporation:

  1. Have a purpose beyond profit. According to the authors, those companies that align themselves with a social role or cause will not only benefit those helped by the cause, but will enhance their corporate brand. More than simply stating a position, companies should clearly define their social mission and objectives, and carry them out by partnering with charitable organizations. Support can include a donation of a portion of its annual profits, corporate volunteerism and ways for customers to share in helping the cause.
  2. Treat people well. Businesses must not be driven by laws of compliance or threat of exposure, but instead should be proactive in choosing to do what’s in the best interest of the customer. And in an era where the ratio of CEO pay to that of the average worker is 364:1 (up from 10:1 just two decades ago), many corporations have a long way to go in respecting employees’ interests and needs. Greater consideration for vendors, community members, board members and even competitors is critical in forming a more conscientious corporate profile.
  3. Champion sustainability. Most large corporations have grown past the point of debating environmental sustainability and now actively seek ways to make it happen. Many are also finding cost savings through greater energy efficiency and less waste. As with socially responsible programs, businesses need to communicate what they are doing in the environmental arena – and why. By educating consumers, businesses will find greater buy-in and program success. (See Wal-Mart’s Love,Earth® line of sustainable jewelry.)
  4. Respect consumers’ power. Conscious corporations are those that enter into a two-way conversation with their markets, acknowledging the more powerful role today’s consumer plays in defining and promoting the brand. This may involve greater use of website interaction, social media and blogs, especially in industries that are dogged by customer-service complaints. Even in the area of social responsibility, corporations can invite customers to weigh in on preferences for charitable causes.

Becoming a conscious corporation requires a passionate commitment from the top on down. Whether you are a member of the C-suite of a large company or are the sole proprietor of a start-up, consider how critical your responsible leadership is in ensuring your company prospers while making a positive impact on the community.

- LuAnne Speeter

Now be honest. Chances are you donate to causes because you were asked to.

Somebody approached you with the right message and cause at the right time and you determined that you had enough discretionary dollars to fit it into your budget.

According to Kim Klein, grassroots fundraising consultant and author of the book, Reliable Fundraising in Unreliable Times, givers aren’t usually proactive. In her book, Klein states: “In studies and in the anecdotal observation of fundraisers, when we ask people why they made their last charitable donation, 80 percent of them will say, ‘Someone asked me.’ And when we ask people who say they do not give money away why they don’t, 80 percent of them will say, ‘I was never asked.’”

Klein spoke this past Tuesday at a daylong fundraising seminar in St. Paul, sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. A gifted and engaging presenter, Klein showed nonprofits how they should improve their fundraising techniques to meet an increase in need rather than cutting their services. Her message that givers give because they’re asked resonated with the attendees.

I showed up wearing two hats – as a board member of a small foundation, and as a consultant to private sector (small business and individual) donors.

To those of us who are working on the behalf of a cause (my first hat), the spontaneous giver is a boon and offers the potential to turn him or her into a long-term supporter. But to those of us who are donors or advocates for donors (the other hat), reflexive giving should have its limits. I encourage donors to keep in mind your ideals – those big-picture causes that, if you had the power to reposition the globe on its axis, everything would fall into a perfect world order.

Klein, herself, attests that, for nonprofit workers, it takes real commitment to the ideal of building a better world in order for the cause to become and remain successful. Nonprofits can get so caught up in the day-to-day concerns of budgets, events, marketing, advocacy and personnel issues that they lose sight of the big picture and, consequently, their inspiration.

This commitment to an ideal should be true for the donor, as well. To participate in building toward a better world, you need to form a pretty clear vision of what that is. Klein devoted two pages of her book to define her own world view, which she presented only as an example. Using actuarial tables, she determined that she’ll live at least until the year 2045. Klein then painted a detailed picture of what her ideal world would then be by that year, which would include a progressive tax system that supports universal health care, education, public transportation and the arts; positive results of environmental efforts on global warming; the eradication of poverty; a reduction in military spending; and progress toward the elimination of racism and sexism. She envisions a society characterized by respectful dialogue and democratic structures that better enable self-governance.

What is your world vision – the world you’d like to pass along to your great-grandchildren? And what programs or services exist today that you can support to help make your vision a reality?

Do some research and find those causes and organizations that best match your ideals for social change, environmental stewardship, cultural preservation, religious expression and/or political discourse. Then, create an annual giving plan that dedicates a good 75%-85% toward those causes.

Consider keeping the remainder uncommitted so you can also respond spontaneously when someone with a good cause asks for your support, or a natural disaster occurs. Within 15 days of the Haitian earthquake in January, people around the world gave more than $528 million to  40+ nonprofit organizations to aid in relief efforts. Unforeseen events such as hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, fires and other tragedies are rarely a part of a giving plan, yet necessitate large and immediate donations.

Revise your plan each year to respond to emerging issues and a shifting political landscape that may affect your world vision. And, of course, check with your tax attorney regarding deductibility of your donated dollars.

 - LuAnne Speeter

I came across a poll this morning on my financial advisor’s website. The poll question: “How has the recession affected your philanthropic giving or charitable legacy plans?” The answer that drew the greatest response (31%) was “Greatly – my primary concern now has to be providing for myself and my family.”

If you regret that you can’t give the amount of money that you’d like to your favorite charity, consider the alternative of volunteering. Volunteerism rates are the one bright spot in the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits’ 2009 year-end report. Whereas 61% of nonprofits in the state reported a decline in revenue in 2009, only 10% experienced a decline in volunteers. Sharing your time and your skills is a great way to give when your personal and/or business finances are tight.

But your time is valuable, too. When deciding where to volunteer, you’ll find more personal fulfillment and have a better chance at a long-term relationship if you do a little research for an organization that’s the right match. Here are some things to think about:

Consider how you’d like to make a difference. Are there community concerns you have, injustices you’d like to address or groups of individuals that need particular care? Focus first on broad issues that are your “hot buttons,” such as eldercare, animal rights, disease awareness, education or the environment, before you begin to narrow your search.

Search programs that are in alignment with your core mission if you’re looking for a corporate or group volunteer project. For example, work or church groups may consider projects that help enhance teamwork, such as Feed My Starving Children, a program that invites groups of 10 or more to pack food for children in need throughout the world.

Assess your skills. Are you handy? Good with numbers? An experienced writer with good grammar skills? Some organizations are an obvious match. For example, A Brush with Kindness – Habitat for Humanity’s program that works with homeowners struggling to maintain their homes – might be perfect for those of us who appreciate the “before and after” in addition to helping those in need. Goodwill-Easter Seals is looking for grease monkeys to help train automotive skills to students. Book lovers can lead book clubs for persons with disabilities through Lifeworks Services.

Factor your available time. Your volunteer project should fit into your time schedule so you’re not tempted to back out if it’s inconvenient. Consider the time it takes to travel to and from the volunteer site. While many organizations may require a set amount of time, try to block out a few hours in order to have the maximum impact for each volunteer session.

Visit the organization. Contact the volunteer coordinator to discuss your interests and schedule a time to visit the volunteer site. Be sure to ask specific questions regarding length of commitment and start date. Request a brochure or log on to the organization’s Web site to learn more about its history, mission and community impact.

Still need help deciding? Check out HandsOn Twin Cities and review their list of more than 200 affiliate agencies. You can also find your match through a keyword search, by browsing for projects or by reviewing the project calendar on the site.

- LuAnne Speeter

You would think that the bad economy would make people less prone to be charitable, but in reality the altruistic spirit is stronger than ever – at least according to a poll* conducted recently by PARADE. The poll revealed that 91% of respondents have reached out or participated in at least one activity in the past 18 months in order to make a difference in society.

People donated their time:

  • 37% delivered food to the hungry
  • 30% helped organize a fund-raising event
  • 32% helped clean up a public area
  • 27% communicated about a cause through e-mail, Twitter or Facebook
  • 24% volunteered at a soup kitchen or food bank
  • 21% raised money for a cause through a sporting event
  • 19% mentored a student

And they were generous with their money:

  • 67% bought charity raffle tickets
  • 58% purchased something unnecessary to support a cause
  • 34% gave money after being moved by a news story

In addition, parents modeled their social responsibility:

  • 90% worked hard to teach their children the importance of activism
  • 64% led by example
  • 51% talked to their children about issues and causes
  • 35% discussed their own contributions and volunteerism
  • 31% urged their children to follow the example of socially active role models
  • 25% encouraged their children to donate money to causes

According to the poll, motivation to do good is deeply rooted:

  • 60% say they donate or volunteer in order to help others
  • 57% want to make the world a better place
  • 49% seek to improve their neighborhoods
  • 39% do so because it makes them feel good about themselves
  • 37% act out of a sense of moral obligation
  • 36% are fulfilling their sense of duty

And yet, the 2009 financial report from the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits is sobering. Forty-seven percent of the MCN’s 2,000 nonprofit member organizations experienced a decline in gifts from individual donors. That pales in comparison to the 60% of nonprofits that reported a decline in revenue from corporations and foundations. At the same time, 60% of nonprofits reported an increased demand for services, and 42% an increase in expenses.

Volunteerism remains relatively strong – only 10% of MCN’s organizations reported a decline in volunteers. It’s reasonable to speculate that, with the state’s unemployment rate still hovering at around 8%, people are volunteering because:

  • They have more time on their hands
  • They want or need the social interaction
  • They are exploring possible alternative career paths
  • They have a heightened empathy for those in need
  • They are compensating for their inability to donate money

As the economy begins to recover, will people be more generous with their money, yet continue to volunteer, too? Hopefully, Americans’ commitment to social responsibility is steadier than the Consumer Confidence Index®.

* Poll conducted by Penn Schoen Berland LLC with a national online panel of adults ages 18 and over. Surveys were completed by 1008 respondents. Margin of error +/- 3.1%.

- LuAnne Speeter

Is being a “responsible” company enough? CSR specialists are beginning to redefine – or at least expand the definition of – what it means to be a good corporate citizen. In a video released by Cause Marketing Forum, Dr. Michal Strahilevitz , a marketing professor at Golden Gate University, suggests that companies should differentiate between corporate social responsibility and corporate social contribution. (Skip ahead to 08:55 if you want to view the video but you’re pressed for time.)

What’s the difference?

Corporate social responsibility refers to those actions that a company takes to comply with the basic standards of being a good employer, business owner and corporate citizen. These would include:

  • Maintaining a safe and wholesome workplace – free from work hazards, employee harassment, etc.
  • Operating within legal and ethical compliance.
  • Offering safe products and services and “making good” if defects are discovered.
  • Being environmentally conscious – recycling waste, controlling emissions and, in general, leaving the smallest carbon footprint possible.

Corporate social contribution, on the other hand, would refer to those efforts that go above and beyond compliance and actually seek to improve the community. While the owners of a company may feel compelled to make a positive impact, it is not technically their responsibility.  Social contribution efforts would include:

  • Starting a foundation and providing grant money to charitable, environmental or community-based causes.
  • Supporting employees who volunteer during company hours and compensating them for the time.
  • Partnering with nonprofit organizations by sponsoring fundraising events and providing cause-related marketing.

Today, there’s a temptation to view too many internal and external corporate initiatives through the prism of CSR. Distinguishing between social responsibility and social contribution helps keep companies more honest with their reporting and cuts back on the “greenwashing.” And, it encourages us to be better than “C” students – that is, not just doing what it takes to get by, but proactively seeking to make a positive impact on the world around us.

- LuAnne Speeter

When dollars are tight, consumers focus on what gets them more bang for the buck. It’s no different with charitable givers. Inspired by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other foundations and corporations, donors and volunteers are beginning to use high-impact philanthropy models to compound the efficacy of their efforts.

One subgroup of charitable givers and volunteers has considerable long-term impact, and they may not even be aware of it. The subgroup? Parents. Read more  on my guest blog post at Leadership and Community.

- LuAnne Speeter

Corporations in virtually every industry and reaching into every corner of the world, from Target and General Mills to Starbucks, Nike and Monsanto, have made their corporate social responsibility initiatives a primary business function. Many of them do so because it’s the right thing to do. But a majority of them also realize a number of business benefits, such as:

Risk management. A culture of transparency and ethics helps companies focus on responsible practices and compliance, and protects them from behaviors that could damage the corporate reputation.

Recruitment and retention. Companies at the top of the moral heap will draw better employees and encourage long-term career paths.

Brand differentiation. A business model built on socially responsible values will drive the development of market-competitive products and services.

Business growth. Statistics from Cone Inc. support the notion that a large percentage of consumers would prefer patronizing companies that support causes.

Perhaps one of the most compelling incentives to institute or maintain a corporate responsibility program is this statistic: Companies that appeared on the CRO 100 Best Corporate Citizens List® over the past nine years have outpaced the rest of Russell 1000® businesses in three-year total return by 26%.

But did these companies outperform the others because they were socially responsible … or were they socially responsible because they had more capital through higher profits and stock prices, and therefore could invest more in those programs?

One example that favors the former argument is the case of Merck, which earned fourth place on the 2009 CRO 100 Best List. The high-profile pharmaceutical company lost considerable market share in mid-2006 amid the controversy that sprang from reported health risks related to its anti-inflammatory drug, Vioxx. Since then, Merck has sought to improve the trust of its stakeholders through greater transparency and better internal and external communications regarding its CSR efforts. On March13, 2009 – the release of the most recent CRO 100 Best List – Merck’s per-share price closed at $27.07, a full $10 per-share better than if it had tracked with the Dow Jones Industrial Average since the beginning of the Vioxx debacle.

Obviously, one example doesn’t tell the entire story. Many believe that ROI should not even be a factor – that companies should exercise corporate responsibility because it’s a moral and/or social obligation.

And then there are those who believe, like Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, that “only people can have responsibilities. A corporation is an artificial person and in this sense may have artificial responsibilities, but ‘business’ as a whole cannot be said to have responsibilities.” (Apparently Friedman wasn’t consulted prior to the recent Supreme Court ruling.) Friedman also stated that the “corporate executive … has direct re­sponsibility to his employers … to make as much money as possible while con­forming to the basic rules of the society.”

Should corporations set out to be socially responsible in order to improve their bottom line? Or should they seek to make the world a better place without hoping to make a profit on it? Or, finally, do you believe that the only responsibility a corporation has, so long as it stays within the law, is to make a profit? Tell us what you think.

- LuAnne Speeter

You have a limited amount of funds to donate out of the company coffers. But with the economy placing greater hardship on community services and charities, you wish you could say “yes” to every request and avoid the heart-wrenching decision to say “no.” So how do you decide which charities to select? Here are some steps you can take to help ensure your donations give you peace of mind while you make a difference in the community:

  • Determine your goals for giving. Establish charitable, social and/or environmental  goals that are most important to you personally and are in alignment with your corporate mission, products and services. Consider youth and education issues, humanitarian aid, health awareness, the arts, community development, environmental concerns, etc.
  • Decide if you want employees and/or customers to participate in selecting charitable goals. If so, you may want to distribute a questionnaire asking them to rate their preferences
  • Draft a social mission statement that formalizes your company’s goals for giving. This statement should be posted on your Web site and available in hard copy for soliciting organizations to review.
  • Research organizations compatible with your social mission. A number of rating systems are available online, but vary according to criteria. The Charities Review Council™(smartgivers.org) reviews Minnesota organizations based on public disclosure, governance, financial activity and fundraising. Charity Navigator is a national rating system that provides easy-to-read financials, charts and comparisons to similar charities. GuideStar is the most inclusive of the systems and serves as a clearinghouse of information on 1.8 million nonprofits.
  • Look beyond the financials. Many rating sites now include crowdsourcing, allowing visitors to post comments about the charities.
  • Consider how you can make the greatest impact with your donated dollars. Charity Navigator is hoping to roll out such measures as accountability and effectiveness within the next year or so. In the meantime, philanthropic investment advisors are using research to determine giving opportunities that potentially have the greatest effect in solving the most critical social issues facing our world.  Arabella Advisors, for example, has determined these top high-impact giving strategies for 2010:

Taking action through advocacy to propel climate change policy

Supporting strategic restructuring among human services organizations

Partnering with governments to improve education

Leveraging additional assets for community development

  • Stay flexible. In spite of all your research and strategizing, emergency situations arise, such as the earthquake in Haiti or a more local need, which may supersede your giving plan. In those cases, let your heart decide.

- LuAnne Speeter

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