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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.

Hard-earned coinsThe 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.


By |2018-03-18T22:46:32+00:00February 3rd, 2012|Strategic Communications Planning/Counsel|4 Comments

About the Author:

Mary Deming Barber, APR, Fellow PRSA, runs a strategic communications consultancy where she helps clients understand how to integrate new media into traditional communication programs. Mary has counseled clients in Tacoma, Anchorage, San Francisco, Oregon, and Colorado for nearly 40 years working with a variety of food organizations, several agencies, and as a key team member on two successful US Senate campaigns. 


  1. Shonali February 3, 2012 at 1:35 pm - Reply

    You touch on a really important point about research, Mary, not just for individual donors, but for companies as well. The great thing about sites like Guidestar and Charity Navigator is that they help to give us the information we need, but we still need to do our due diligence, as you point out. And thanks so much for the shout out!

    • mdbarber February 3, 2012 at 9:42 pm - Reply

      @Shonali Thanks Shonali. It just takes a moment for one to check either of the sources but it can save lots of angst later on.

  2. MimiMeredith February 6, 2012 at 8:43 am - Reply

    I love this post! Having been a Community Foundation board member and development officer for several non-profits, I think enough can not be said of working to truly understand what one supports.

    • mdbarber February 6, 2012 at 9:22 am - Reply

      @MimiMeredith Thanks Mimi. Community foundations are, from my experience, great sources for well-vetted nonprofits. I worked with the Alaska Community Foundation for a while and know the due diligence that goes into the grantmaking process. Sometimes I think people get caught up in the moment and don’t do the research. I hope this can begin to change some of that behavior. Thanks for reading my blog.

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