By Maddie Orton
If you donate to nonprofits, chances are you’ve seen a growing number of emails in your inbox over the last few weeks asking for support.
“The holidays are traditionally a time of giving. People are thinking more generously, thinking of others, so it fits with the spirit of the season,” says Linda Czipo. “We’ve also got tax considerations. The end-of-the-year tax incentives expire Dec. 31.”
Czipo is the Executive Director of New Jersey’s Center for Non-profits, an umbrella organization for charities across the state. She says many nonprofits receive most of their donations in the last quarter of the year, and particularly in December.
But where do individual donors come into this, rather than foundations or corporations?
“Individual donations comprise about three-fourths or more of all donations given to charity,” said Czipo, “so individuals are vitally important in this picture.”
But she says charitable giving in the state hasn’t yet returned to pre-recession levels.
“At the same time, you’ve got a climate where the demand for the services that non-profits provide continues to go up and up,” she added. “A lot of people think about charities, and they think about things like soup kitchens and homeless shelters and whatnot, but the umbrella encompasses so many other things. It’s counseling, and it’s environmental protection, and the arts, job training, education, healthcare.”
Part of the challenge, Czipo says, is that people are still regaining financial security, and then there’s the matter of donor fatigue.
“If you’re on the donor side and you’re getting more and more of these requests, it can seem a little daunting to try to sift through them or find the organization that you really want to get behind,” Czipo said.
“I think the first thing is really to think about which causes you’re passionate about,” says Czipo about finding the right charity. “There are also ways to check what an organization does.”
“Do they have a mission you can get behind? Are their programs effective? Are they really providing the services and the programs in the community in the way that they say they’re going to?” asks Czipo.
She says it’s all about impact. She cautions to beware of buying into what’s called “the overhead myth.” That’s the idea that a nonprofit’s effectiveness can be judged by the percentage of its budget that goes to rent, salaries and other administrative costs.
“Charities, like any other successful organization, have expenses that are called overhead. It’s things like the audit, so you can be sure that the finances are being spent appropriately. It’s things like insurance, so that they’re protected against risk or exposure. It’s the facilities, keeping the lights on, making sure the facility is safe,” Czipo explains, “and things like spreading the word and fundraising. These are all important and necessary expenses to a well-run organization.”
If donating to your favorite cause isn’t in the cards this year, Czipo recommends volunteering, joining a committee or even simply talking up your favorite charity to friends, so they might consider adding it to their nice list.