The end of the year brings the holidays, parties, shopping, decorating and trimming the Christmas tree. It also is the time of year that charities focus on year-end donations. Giving USA shares that total charitable giving in the United States reached more than $298.4 billion in 2011. Individuals contributed 73 percent of that amount.
With thousands of charities seeking donations from the general public, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the multitude of online and direct mail appeals. How do you choose a charity to support? If you’re unfamiliar with a charity, check out their website, visit their location if possible, talk to staff and volunteers, learn about their programs, and their impact. Websites such as Guidestar.org and CharityNavigator.org provide fiscal information.
I usually focus on charities that personally affect or interest me. Since my family has been so heavily affected by cancer, for instance, I try to support one or two cancer-related organizations every year. And I’m a huge animal lover so am a sucker for animal-related charities. And I love the outdoors. But I can’t support all of them! So I start by looking for charities with missions that resonate with me. I also look for organizations that are fiscally responsible (ie, spend more of their annual budget on programs versus administrative and/or fundraising) so I know my donation is making the greatest impact. And, the last few years, I’ve been focusing on local charities so I can support people, animals and places in my surrounding communities.
Supporting a charity can be done in many ways. Most prefer unrestricted cash. Making a donation in honor or memory of someone is a wonderful way to share your support of an organization. Many nonprofits will send special cards to a recipient. We chose to honor our wedding guests by making donations to two charities in lieu of favors (we put table cards at each place setting). Some charities sell holiday cards as another opportunity to support, and promote, their work.
I’m sure most of you have your favorite charities, but if you’re searching for a worthwhile organization, here are some ideas, as well as some of my favorites that I’ve had personal contact with.
My childhood obsession with horses continued into adulthood. While cancer stopped my ability to ride/train, horses still bring me inner peace and happiness. I am incredibly impressed with Horses Haven, a rescue organization in Howell that is run completely by volunteers. I sponsored one of their un-adoptable horses for many years (and hope to do so again next year) and volunteered several times. There are a lot of shelters for dogs and cats in your local area, such as the Michigan Humane Society or your city’s animal shelter.
Supporting the outdoors is a great way to ensure your favorite parks and trails continue to be available. Many of these
If a family member or you have been affected by a disease, consider supporting an organization that conducts research, offers support services, and provides education or other resources. As I mentioned, cancer-related charities are close to my heart. I’ve written about Camp Māk-A-Dream’s impact on my life several times so no surprise I’m a big advocate for this amazing free camp for children and young adults with cancer. I also believe in the mission of the Cancer Support Community, which offers free social and emotional support for people with cancer, their families and friends. With more than 50 affiliates throughout the U.S. and Canada, there is most likely an affiliate in your area. Make-A-Wish Michigan provides ‘wishes’ to children with life-threatening illnesses. I know many children and teens fortunate to receive a trip or special moment provided by Make-A-Wish. Their smiles tell the impact this organization provides to participants.
Of course there are so many other health-related charities beyond cancer. From March of Dimes to Gift of Life to the American Heart Association, these charities certainly positively affect many people.
Good education is critical to our society. With continued budget cuts for school districts and higher education institutions, education can use some help. Many local school districts have created foundations so the public can donate funds for items needed in schools, field trips, programs such as choir and band, and other needs. Many universities have opportunities to support specific programs, such as certain departments, scholarships or athletics.
Local arts and culture organizations are also feeling the pinch of the economy. I am a firm believer that a city is so much better with museums, theater and cultural opportunities for children and adults. The Henry Ford, Cranbrook Institute of Science, Stagecrafters theater, Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Zoo are among my favorites to visit. All rely on donations to help operate and offer great programs.
You may think that you can’t make a difference because you can’t donate a large sum. Not true! Every dollar counts. Really. If you can’t donate money or don’t want to give cash, check into a wish list. Many charities need office supplies, animal food, clothing, etc. Every spring, I print Camp Māk-A-Dream’s wish list, head to the Dollar Store and purchase art supplies, journals and other items needed for the camp season. Every December, my husband donates cat food, litter and other supplies needed by a local animal shelter.
And almost every charity I know needs volunteers. Most nonprofits have a small staff doing multiple job duties. As a former nonprofit executive, I can attest that volunteers are quite often the batteries that keep an organization moving forward.
There is unfortunately no shortage of needy, worthwhile charities. There are also irresponsible, ineffective charities. Before parting with your hard-earned money, I encourage you to investigate a charity to ensure fiscal responsibility, a clear mission and positive impact in the community.