Quick tips to making smart giving choices

This week’s news regarding the Susan G. Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood sent shock waves around the world. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, this has been an important lesson in the power of social media and individuals to affect a decision.

This has affected me, and many of my friends and colleagues, in a variety of ways:

  • As a communications professional I have read many posts analyzing the communication strategies of both organizations. There will undoubtedly be many more.

  • The situation also puts the spotlight on the research smart corporations should complete before selecting community partners.

  • As an individual, there are also obvious implications for personal funding choices.

The need for this research doesn’t change because the issue changes. Research and a strategic focus should always be part of a giving strategy.

I don’t want to get into who’s right and who’s wrong here but instead provide a guide to choosing nonprofits you support – as an individual or as a corporation. If we haven’t seen anything else this week, we’ve certainly seen the power social media has in swaying public opinion.

I’m sure you’d agree you want to know where your hard-earned dollars are going. It’s not that time consuming to make sure the vast majority of your check will go to direct services. Merriam Webster defines these as:

“active service on cases and work with patients as distinguished from staff functions”

While I understand completely the need for administrative costs, it’s important to understand the details behind those numbers. Here’s a portion of my post from January 20, 2010 detailing the research you can do before writing that check:

In talking with my children about the importance of giving and the school’s drive, we’ve also had to teach them a bit about what unfortunately might be called the seamier side of fundraising. As we saw after 9/11 and the 2005 tsunami, there are unscrupulous fundraisers who are more than happy to take your hard-earned dollars. It’s important to take a few minutes to make sure your money goes where you want it to go. Make sure you give to organizations you trust, or that your friends trust.

Guidestar and Charity Navigator both offer services that help you learn about nonprofits. United Way of America is another organization that thoroughly screens their partners before providing them funds. And, of course, there are any number of blogs and experts out there to tell you what to do as well. One of my favorite public relations people, Shonali Burke, offered her thoughts about the aftershocks on fundraising.

If you have the time, an organization’s IRS Form 990 is a great source of information. Pay close attention to the percentages of funds that go to “program services” as compared to administrative costs. Program services funds are actually getting to those the organization helps while administrative costs are generally overhead. Personally, organizations I like to support keep their overhead to no more than 10% of expenses.

The Barber Group

Gig Harbor, Washington


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