The holidays are primetime for giving, whether it’s a gift to your bestie, collecting cans for a food drive, or donating to the charity of your choosing. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofits registered in the United States. Add to that all of the social businesses doing great things, too. How in the world are you supposed to choose?
Have no fear! With millions of charities, it can be overwhelming, I know. Luckily, you’ve got a self-proclaimed insider to help you navigate through it all so you can make the best decision for you and your wallet.
1. Find the need
Do some research on what the hot-button issues are in your community or in the world. Take Syria, hunger relief, or homelessness, for example. This process will lead you to organizations working on those issues. You can even look into what some of the most pressing needs are. In Syria, it could be food and medicine. For people suffering homelessness might need access to employment services so they can get an interview.
Some personal faves: immigration, cross-cultural communication, hunger relief, peace
2. Get local, give local
Once you’ve identified an issue and located a few organizations addressing it, look into them. GuideStar is a great resource for finding nonprofits and their financial information (outside of the org’s website, of course!) Find out about their programs and ways that you can help. Many nonprofits have a hard time finding long-term volunteers to help with data entry and research, so make the commitment! It not only helps them, but it looks fantastic on resumes and college/grad school applications. If long-term isn’t in your budget, give them a few hours of your time to really get to know what they’re all about.
Some personal faves: HOBY PA East, AmeriCorps VISTA
3. Follow the money
There are two ways you can follow the money depending on how you’re giving this season. If you’re looking to give to a nonprofit or a foundation, you can read their financial information. Does it jive with what you’re looking for? If you’re trying to shop responsibly, look into the supply chain. Is the company sourcing its materials ethically? Is it buying from places that depend on slave labor? Hershey has a great model for what to look for.
4. Strike up a conversation
You don’t know things unless you talk to people! Inquire about a company’s giving policy or social mission while you’re shopping. Talk to other volunteers or employees at the organization about their work or why they like it. Thinking like a researcher will help you make the best decision because you can ask about what matters most to you.
Some personal faves: the neighbors; your school; a customer service rep
5. Check out the business model
A lot of companies nowadays are operating on a “triple bottom line.” That means they care not just about their profits, but also people and the planet. You can check off a lot of people on your list just by shopping with these companies. Look into their business model: who they partner with and why; their mission; what their goals are. While almost every company has a corporate responsibility aspect to it (and the reports posted on their websites), some are better than others to others. Patagonia, for example, epitomizes this.
6. Search for change
Are the organizations you’re looking to donate dollars to just keeping with the status quo? Or are they pushing boundaries to create sustainable change in their communities? Is the anti-poverty organization addressing root issues of poverty or is it treating the symptoms? This is the hardest thing to track with an organization. They can share all of the numbers they want, but at the end of the day, the more innovative they are, they more likely they are to start a ripple.