The challenges and opportunities facing the nonprofit community provide me with a growing list of issues and reasons to blog more frequently this year. Economic challenges to ripple through various sectors and the charitable giving sector is no exception.
If you are a reader of the Wall Street Journal you are seeing unprecedented page space given to headlines such as: “Family Charities Get Focused,” “After Madoff, Donors Grow Wary of Giving,” and “The Philanthropy Shakedown.”
Philanthropy and giving in this country is a critical element of who we are and why our nation works. Non profits are, by definition, neither governmental organizations nor private sector businesses. They are something else – the individual pieces of a sector large enough to generate over $300 billion annually and important enough to earn tax exempt status from the IRS.
The fact is that non-profit entities provide vitally important services that for-profit entities would consider “unprofitable.” They are an effective alternative to government because of their flexibility and their ability to voluntarily secure support –in time and money – from interested and involved citizens.
As Americans, we support this approach but for reasons beyond the practical. We actually see value, each of us, in helping our neighbor. We have within us a desire to make the world a better place and give of our success and prosperity, in a way that no other nation fully parallels.
But when the economy turns soft and people who should know better turn dishonest, these tough times and disingenuous people are as likely to target a non profit organization as they are a for-profit business. Recent headlines prove this and also tie a growing sense of concern to charitable giving.
Here is an important point: so far, what we are seeing among our donors is this: people are not determined to give less, but rather are becoming determined to see more results from their giving. From our perspective, that is a good thing.
It is shaky ground to refer to a crisis or disaster as an opportunity. The good people of New Orleans will tell you, in reverent tones, that while no one would wish the devastation of Katrina on anyone, the reemerging community, particularly in the area of education, is better. People there have determined to take advantage of the disaster and make things better.
Likewise, since we are all in the current financial crisis together and destined to ride it out, we can take the situation and make things better. The greatest crisis would be a measurable shift from our innate desire to help one another. Many more children will be hurt if our fear and skepticism over the deplorable actions of a Madoff cause us to pull back even a little.
It is timely that Operation Kids has a decade jump on this issue. That is how long we have been helping donors “give smarter” and helping charities deliver services more efficiently. Our plea as a charity and advice as a charitable giving strategist is this:
- Give, but give smarter. Expect more from your giving
- Get advice before you give, just as you get advice in other important areas of your life.
- Research the charitable organizations you are giving to and get to know their key players.
- Demand accountability and results for your giving.
The current economic crisis has made the situation just that much worse for too many children. Giving to organizations that effectively address need is more important than ever. There are many great organizations out there. Now, more than ever, it is up to individuals, foundations and corporate donors to support those organizations that are truly making a difference. There is more to come as we try and do our part in educating donors and keeping the spirit of people helping people, alive and well.
So, how are you changing your charitable giving, given the current economic climate? Are you give more because it is needed more? Less because you have less? Demanding more because of recent examples of gross greed? Asking more questions? Tell us how this current climate is changing your thinking – or why it is staying the same.