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By Rachel Gattuso
Plentiful narratives reinforce how empowering it is to give back; that it’s our due diligence to contribute in the places where we live. And they are right. But we also need to remember that not all giving is helpful. There are things in the donation cycle that are broken and the onus for fixing these breaks is on donors, not those working in the nonprofits.
Every day, these individuals are on the front lines working to improve our communities after the creation of societal gaps made from the intersection of for-profit and government entities. Our businesses and citizens can better help by following a few counter-intuitive tips when giving to the charities we know and love.
Don’t Talk About Money
Many of us have been taught to avoid three things in discussions: politics, religion and money. Social media has somewhat tossed these rules out the window, but we have also forgotten this rule when in charitable conversations. There’s a common thought that nonprofit donations should by and large be spent on the mission, and not on overhead. We get into the habit of dissecting all financial decisions they make. But this is the number one error we make: failing to trust those closest to the challenges we face collectively with the discretion to invest in the talent and infrastructure that will actually move the needle toward long-term, sustainable change.
When giving, don’t be hypercritical about overhead ratios. While nonprofits must be good stewards of donor dollars, donors instead should be hypercritical about how charities serve their constituencies and whether they’re fulfilling their stated missions.
Don’t Jump to Toys First
While our landfills fill and our marine life is killed by plastic, a whole new generation is decluttering (thanks Mari Kondo). Wanting to rehome our possessions before dumping them is a responsible next step. Stuffed animals and toys are often the first on the list to go since removing them makes a marked, visual difference in our homes.
Donors imagine a new child warming to a new item just as their own child did. But many times the children receiving them may not be in the capacity to retain the gift. For example, many children categorized as homeless are moving from one temporary residence to another. When the next location doesn’t have room for their toys, those possessions can be left behind.
Another trauma they likely didn’t need to endure. What else, instead, could have a long-lasting effect on this child’s situation? Is it more important to give them warm socks? Could it be more beneficial to help their parent invest in getting their GED so they can get a better job? Rather than focusing possessions that eventually contribute to clutter, we can give our youth far more powerful gifts.
Don’t Forget Money Has Value
In the nonprofit world, it is apparent that people give the ways in which they want to give, not always in the ways that best help the charities or causes they love. While there is inherent power in in-kind donations and the gift of volunteerism, many still feel there is less value or forethought attached to a monetary gift.
Perhaps a local company really wants to help combat homelessness in Reno. They decide to host a clothing drive at their business and bring the items directly to the shelter. This is a lovely thought, but perhaps the shelter has a bigger need raising $2,000 for shelving to store their dry goods. It may not seem glamourous, but that company may have reconsidered shifting their focus to a company rummage sale and donated the proceeds for the shelter to help install the shelving.
Philanthropy will be around regardless of which economic and governmental institutions are implemented, but we need to reassess how we work with and support the nonprofits who are rising to meet so many of today’s challenges. It’s time for donors to trust those on the ground closest to the challenge and, therefore, closest to the solutions that will change our communities. It’s time to start asking our nonprofits what it is they need, then accommodating their responses.
Learn more about strategies for corporate giving at NCET’s Biz Cafe on April 17. NCET is a member-supported nonprofit organization that produces educational and networking events to help people explore business and technology. More info at NCETcafe.org.
Rachel Gattuso is the founder and president of the Gattuso Coalition, www.gattusocoalition, where she works to implement strategies that bridge for-profit and non-profit entities for improved communities.