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Are you feeling generous this season? We know that during the pandemic, nonprofits are struggling more than ever. However, choosing which nonprofit to donate to can be overwhelming. Many people will just give to the same organizations every year because vetting new organizations can be complicated. This could leave out many needy organizations that do great work. So take some time, do a little research, and you’ll feel great about giving back.

To make things a bit easier, here are some things to look for as you prepare to donate.

Keep it Local: Many organizations have both local and national offices. But, to ensure support goes to people in your community, make sure you are donating to the organization’s local branch. Look at the list of board members and where they live and work. Donations to a national hub may not “trickle-down” to your community. 

Watch out for scams: People can easily fall victim to charity and nonprofit scams. Scammers often use copycat names and high-pressure sales tactics to trick people into donating. Always verify that a nonprofit is legitimate by searching for tax-exempt status on the IRS website or through organizations such as Guidestar (, showing how the nonprofit is structured and spends its donations.

Don’t be Scared of Overhead: Many people are upset by the notion that a portion of their charity donation goes towards overhead, paying for staff, utilities, and other business expenses instead of directly to those they serve. For many nonprofits, the administration is essential to ensure the organization is maximizing its effectiveness. Low overhead does not always mean the nonprofit is more effective. For example, having paid administrative staff (rather than relying on volunteers) ensures continuity in the programs. If you have specific questions about how a nonprofit spends money, ask to see their financial records or talk to an informed organization representative. Ask if they have a budget. If they don’t, that can be a red flag that their finances may not be well managed. 

Don’t forget about other ways of giving: If you cannot donate cash, consider different ways to support your local nonprofits. Volunteer or provide goods and services through in-kind donations. Contribute items to fundraisers. Many organizations also accept stocks, bonds, cars, and other property. At the very least, liking and sharing social media posts can help spread the word about an organization’s good work. 

So, do a little research on the nonprofits that you support. Look in some new directions to broaden your philanthropic giving, and consider local, well-run charities.

Harvey Gail is President of Spire Management, an association management, event planning, and consulting firm located in Salem, Oregon., @HarvGail


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