Giving back: Part 2

In my last column, I talked about finding a rewarding way to give back to community. This week’s topic is choosing the cause you will support.

We all make careful choices about where we put our time and money. There are hundreds of causes and organizations saying “pick me!” and it can be hard to determine the best choice.

“One-off” giving tends to be instinctual; you automatically know you want to help (or that you don’t!). When my friend’s niece got leukaemia, there was no question about offering to help. We hear a lot about people using this kind of situation as a “scam,” but the actual incidence of that is very low. I like to err on the side of generosity, and trust that others will be there when I need help.

When giving money or time to a specific charity, the decision can be tougher, unless one organization is close to your heart. Some questions you may want to ask are:

  • “How does your organization ensure clients receive the maximum benefit from donations?”

Note that this is not the same as asking “what percentage of the money goes to help clients?” A lower expense ratio does not mean that clients get more help; in fact, the opposite can be true. If an organization is not spending enough money on administration, they may be inefficient and ineffective in helping people in need.

Think about it. Do you want to be able to trust information you are given about finances and client services? That means the organization needs a bookkeeper and a professional audit, and a way to keep statistics. Do you want someone qualified to be able to answer your questions in a comprehensive way? That too is an expense. Do you want to be able to find information on a website? You get the idea – less spending does not equal better services for donors or clients.

That being said, certain types of spending may not feel right to you as a donor. For example, if the charity sends you too many letters or gifts, you may want to specify the amount and type of communication you prefer. The charity should respect your wishes around this with regard to how they communicate with you; if not, look elsewhere.

  • What services or programs can I donate to?

A charity should honour your wishes around where your donation goes, and present you with some options. They should also be able to tell you how your donation has made a difference.

Be sure to confirm whether your donation qualifies for a tax receipt, and ask when/how you can expect to receive acknowledgment and documentation. Donors are sometimes surprised to learn that the cause they have given to does not have registered charitable status with the Canada Revenue Agency (which gives the ability to issue tax receipts) or that they have donated something that will not be tax receipt-able (such as a gift card for a client).

  • Do you have a volunteer program, and how do volunteers contribute to your work?

An organization that can offer volunteer orientation, training, interviews, multiple ways to volunteer, volunteer recognition, and job descriptions is one that is “volunteer ready” – which increases the chances that you’ll be matched to a role that really fits for your schedule, interests, and abilities. Don’t assume and opportunity doesn’t exist, just because the charity hasn’t listed it on their website– people find unique opportunities all the time just by sharing that they have a particular skill set or interest.

Check out the Community Information and Volunteer Centre at www.kcr.ca to search for existing opportunities and create your own volunteer profile. This is one of the many community services funded by United Way.

United Way invests in organizations that are effective and efficient, and is a great way to support many charities with one gift. To find out how you can support change through United Way, visit us at www.unitedwaycso.com

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

The mission of United Way is to improve lives and build community by engaging individuals and mobilizing collective action.

We call this our Community Impact Mission. Community impact is about achieving meaningful, long-term improvements to the quality of life in Canadian communities, by addressing not just the symptoms of problems but also getting at the root causes. It’s about making fundamental changes to community conditions.

United Way is achieving this mission by moving people from poverty to possibility, promoting healthy people and strong communities, and supporting all that kids can be.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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