Give local…but where to start?

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A national columnist recently gave tips for how to find “worthy” charities to support at year end.  One tip is to use Charity Navigator to check how much of the nonprofit’s income is spent on fundraising.  Another tip is to not write a check to an organization just because they have a buzz word in their name, such as “cancer” or “Alzheimer’s.”  Do your research first.

I agree.  Sort of.

The column was a national charity overview and I believe that if you start local, you’ll have better luck finding charities whose missions meet your passions and charitable goals.  It’s way more than writing a check.  We call that “transactional giving” but it doesn’t necessarily give you joy.

If you’re looking for charities to support, you can start by contacting local organizations such as your church, city hall, United Way, Legion and VFW posts, schools, and your local Community Foundation.  Ask them who’s doing good work.  If you have a specific passion, ask “who’s doing good work around _________ (veterans, children, hunger, animals, music, etc.)?”

Then you can research the quality of their work.  Note: small nonprofits won’t appear on Charity Navigator.  But in Illinois you can check with the Secretary of State website to make sure the nonprofit corporation is current with their annual filing.  The Illinois Attorney General’s Office website also has the capability to search their charitable organization database.  If a nonprofit has their IRS 501c3 designation, they will show up on the IRS website and (hopefully) on Guidestar.  And the quality of a nonprofit’s work is so much more than their ratio of income to fundraising, but that’s a whole Dan Pallotta TedTalk for another day.

Ask local / give local.  It’s like Small Business Saturday.  Shopping at local stores and giving to local charities keep the local economic engine running.  Yes, I’m based in a rural community, but this holds true in the suburbs and city, too.  I’m not anti-national charity, but if you’re unsure about writing a check to the national organization, please note that we have local chapters of them near us, such as the YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Easterseals, Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities.  Your gift to the local chapter stays local.  And if you’re not sure, ask.

I echo the national columnist: do your homework…whether you’re sure or unsure where to give.  Even if you find a nonprofit on Charity Navigator with a good score, does that mean you should make a gift to them?  It’s a gift and giving a gift should make you feel good.  If it doesn’t, I invite you to change where you give and there are plenty of resources to help you find charities whose work aligns with your thoughts, passions, and ideals.

I encourage everyone in the “transactional giving” mode to rethink it and go searching for charities that welcome and embrace you as a partner…not just take your check and mail you a form letter.