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New to Philanthropy? Here’s What to Consider In Your Roadmap

Whether you are new to philanthropy or new to a more strategy-focused approach to your giving, Manatee Community Foundation can help you make the considerations needed to feel great about the money you give while you make the impact important to you.

Here are a few tips for beginners and for anyone who wants to be thoughtful about how they make a difference:

  1. First and foremost, make sure the organization is in good standing with the IRS as a 501c3 charitable nonprofit. You can find the nonprofit listed on GuideStar.org and can create a free account to download the latest IRS Form 990s, the tax form that must be completed each year.
  2. Work with your professional advisors to understand how to make your charitable gifts in the ways that are tax-wise for you. For example, you may find yourself in the right position to do most of your giving using the required minimum distribution from your IRA. Or, you may have non-cash assets like appreciated stocks you can use to open a donor advised fund.
  3. Realize that we all have a limited amount of money dedicated to charity, and that means we have to make choices. Whether you have $5,000 per year or $5,000,000,000 per year for giving, it has a ceiling. Do you choose to give smaller amounts to many organizations or to give larger amounts to a couple of organizations and make a bigger impact for them? Of all of the charitable causes you care about, what do you care about the most?
  4. Start by asking yourself about the change you really want to see in the world or in your community. Then partner with resources like MCF to help you find the nonprofits that are making that difference and are doing it well. There are also many online tools like The Giving Partner to help you research local nonprofits.
  5. Go beyond the surface in your research. If an email or social media post is making the rounds about an organization, make sure you are getting the full story. Each year, we see the damage misinformation can cause. Some local organizations are associated with larger, national nonprofits but have distinct tax ID numbers, separate boards of directors, and separate funds. Other times, information is shared by people who are not knowledgeable about nonprofits, and it can be inaccurate or misleading. Learn the facts or ask us to research them for you.
  6. Get familiar with what matters most about an organization: whether your dollars are helping real people (or animals) make gains. Measuring the success of a nonprofit based solely on its administrative expenses, for example, is unwise. What you likely want to know is whether the organization’s programs and services are making a difference with your money. Ask how many people in the programs are making gains and what those gains are.
  7. Think about an unrestricted gift. If you know the nonprofit is making positive gains and is a good steward of funds, there are likely many contributing factors including: competent staff who should be appropriately compensated for their work; marketing dollars that attract more charitable funds; professional services that ensure the organization is successfully operated. All of these costs help the nonprofit accomplish its mission, and an investment in them is an investment in the ultimate result of helping the community. The cost of a new outfit is not simply the cost of fabric, but includes the labor, energy and transportation required to get the clothes in a store; the end “product” of a professionally operated nonprofit also has many costs.
  8. Have realistic expectations of nonprofit organizations and their staffs. For example, be mindful of the amount of time you ask an organization to spend completing a request or reporting back to you. Consider the value of their staff’s time and whether your requirements or expectations are reasonable for the amount of money you plan to give.
  9. At the same time, expect a prompt tax acknowledgement and thank you…and expect to learn what your gift made possible. Nonprofits should be invested in excellent communications and share what your contribution helped to accomplish.
  10. Respect the expertise of nonprofit staff while feeling empowered to ask questions. Nonprofits are accountable to the public. Their board and staff should be responsive to questions and transparent about their work, financials, governance, and operations. You should feel free to reach out and ask your questions. A well-run organization has experienced and knowledgeable team members who likely understand their work better than anyone. Respect their expertise, be open to learning from them, and be empowered to keep reaching out to them if you need more clarity about the organization. MCF often works with donors to ask questions on their behalf.

What additional ideas would you add to this short primer?