Today’s fundraising has come a long way from yesterday’s penny drives.

Like many of you, I am shocked by the devastation in Haiti. The people there have struggled so long and worked to improve their lives and now are faced with starting over again as the result of Mother Nature’s 7.0 strike. It seems unimaginable but we all see the pictures and hear the stories throughout the day.

I am also struck by the generosity of individual people and governments around the world to give of their time, their talents and their money to help the people of Haiti. Earlier today, Geoff Livingston wrote about five social media lessons learned from the quake and they really show how far we’ve come in the past 5-10 years.Pile of pennies

Social media tools and the news media have quickly become carriers of messages from those in need as well as ways to give money. Cell phone carriers are passing through donations based on text messaging raising more than $20 million at last report. It’s incredible to watch and is certainly a long way from the penny drives we had when I was in grade school.

Since my children (14 and 17) were born, they’ve learned the importance of giving to others in need. I am really gratified they have been listening to their parents. Together, they have given more than $100 of their own money to the Haitian fund drive at their high school. Mind you there’s an incentive for the class that raises the most money but still, $100 from a child’s pocket is a lot of cash. One class raised more than $500 today, all part of a Model UN project at the school, the result of these children seeing a real need and having the desire to participate.

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.

In the end, what’s most important is that we help the people of Haiti recover from this crisis and give generously. We most certainly know that they need it more than we do.

Photo credit: r-z