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Give, Give, Give: How Do I Decide?

Last Updated on Wednesday, December 05, 2012

You can't open your email or your mailbox without receiving a solicitation from another worthy charity. A recent email I received warned of giving to certain charities that spent too much on their administrative costs or paid their CEOs exorbitant salaries, but unfortunately did nothing to help me objectively evaluate a charity's actual status, mission and financial records. It's easy to become a cynical philanthropist when unvetted alarmist messages hit your inbox. The recent Powerball Lottery got me daydreaming about winning and becoming a big ticket philanthropist. Being the steward of half a billion dollars is a huge responsibility. Of course, being the steward of even a much smaller amount is also a responsibility. How can we sit down with a checkbook and a stack of requests and feel good about our end-of-the-year charitable gifts?

Teaching people to fish or giving them a fish?

In my daydream, my family and I set up the "Hand-Up Foundation" - comprised of board members experienced in helping people get the tools they need to improve their lot in life, rather than just giving them a 'quick fix.' As you evaluate a charity's mission, consider if its programs and services are intended to empower and enable to do the most long-term good?

Applying this principle to medical care, it means focusing on finding a cure instead of just helping individual patients. It means encouraging and teaching people how to live healthier lives, empowering pregnant women (in our case) with the right information to advocate for themselves and their babies, and finding and fixing flaws in the healthcare system that lead to needless disasters.

In short, do you understand and believe in the charity's mission and how they are fulfilling that mission? If you don't know ours, ask me!

Evaluate a charity's core values.
Invest in organizations whose values run parallel to your own values, not just because they are popular, address an immediate public need, or because part of their mission is admirable, but some of it runs contrary to your values. At the Preeclampsia Foundation, we spent a good deal of time a few years ago, reflecting on what our values are, or what we wanted them to be, and found five words that best characterize our core values. We are: Bold, Influential, Empathetic, a Credible-authority, and Catalytic. We try in all respects to uphold those core values in all that we do.

Do your homework with valid sources.
BBB Wise Giving Alliance (www.give.org) and Guidestar (www.guidestar.org) are charity watchdog organizations, third parties whose function is to objectively evaluate non-profit organizations against gold standards in ethical governance, responsible fundraising, and transparency of financial operations, such as salaries of their chief executives and percentage of funds raised that actually go to their programs. It costs money to operate an efficient and effective charity, but most non-profit experts agree that 75% of an organization's income should be spent on their programs and services, versus management and fundraising activities. The Preeclampsia Foundation spends 79% of your gifts directly on mission programs and services.

There are more than one million registered non-profit organizations in the United States. Animals, veterans, health care, education, disaster relief, and the environment are but a few of the categories where there is worthy need. Choose an area of interest to you and then ask of their mission: are they doing good work that will have long-term impact? Are they operating efficiently? Are they having an impact? Would my donation fill an immediate need or provide a long-term solution? Which is more meaningful to me?

Please consider these same questions as you think about a gift to the Preeclampsia Foundation during this all-important season of giving. Money raised now largely determines how far we will go in our mission next year.

I wish for you, your family and friends to have a blessed, peaceful and joyous season, regardless of your faith traditions ... and that we may stand resolved in our healthful wishes for mothers and babies worldwide.

Warmest regards,

Eleni Tsigas

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