So you want to donate to a nonprofit: 3 keys to creating the greatest impact

green "donate now" button with picture of a gift on itThere is little better you can do with your money than give to a nonprofit doing good work. And around tax season, giving to 501c3 (nonprofit) organizations becomes particularly relevant. You may be used to appeals at year-end, around the holidays, but did you know that you can give to several great organizations through tax check offs? In California, for example, you can give to local rape crisis centers for services to victims.

In addition to tax check offs (ask a tax preparer about your state!), what else can you do for nonprofits? There are many mechanisms for donating in kind (giving stuff, time, etc.) and fiscally. All you have to do is contact the organization and ask how to donate (and what they could most use).

As someone who has worked in nonprofits for ages, and even directed a nonprofit for a time, here are a few things to keep in mind so you can have the greatest impact:

  • Keep the fiscal donations unrestricted.
    • Those of us trained to run nonprofits learn quickly we’re supposed to give you options for your donations. Bus tickets…an hour of counseling…diapers…While having such options may make some more likely to donate, to feel their money is being put to good use, let me tell you, unrestricted funds are indeed the most needed. So many of our organizations take money that comes with restrictions – grants, for example – that to be given money for which we can designate its use is a godsend. If you give to an organization you trust, believe me, they’ll use it for what is most needed. It could be that an unexpected emergency happened that leads to a shortage at the end of the year…who knows. The point is, trust the organization to use your donation for its needs – and trust leadership to know those needs. If you must designate a purpose for your donation, then may I humbly suggest you earmark it for staff bonuses and/or salary? Believe me, most funding comes with the delightful directive that it may not be used for staffing. And if it can be used for staffing, organizational ethics often restrict leadership from increasing salaries because not every staff member is funded by that particular grant, etc. In other words, equity issues prevent staff salaries from increasing when restricted funding allows because it’s just not fair to give someone a raise because they happen to be on a grant, for example, that allows for staff pay – others who aren’t on that funding won’t get a raise even though they deserve it too. Get it? Keep it simple – let your donation be for unrestricted use.
  • Dear lord, don’t give used things.
    • Unless you are giving to an organization’s thrift shop or your donation is worth thousands of dollars, please oh please do not give used products. Women at shelters will not thank you for used underwear. I’m not kidding, I worked and volunteered at organizations that received donations of used undergarments and similar products as if that was a nice thing to do. If you were staying at a shelter, how would you feel if the “supporters” thought you were only worth some gross used stuff? No thank you.
  • Take advantage of the tax check off in your state.
    • Ugh, I get heartburn just thinking about how such an easy way to give is overlooked year by year. Pay heed to what I wrote above and make that tax check off from now on!

If you read this post because you’re considering donating to a nonprofit, all I can say is DO IT! The funding pool for great organizations doing amazing work at the not-for-profit level is shrinking day by day. It’s hard enough for such organizations to meet the needs of the individuals and communities they serve – be a doll and contribute to improving their work and efficacy…without restrictions!


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