When we give to charities, we use our money in a way that is different from investing and consuming. Unlike investing, we have no intention of ever seeing our money again. Unlike consuming, we’re not purchasing products or services that we will personally use. Instead, we are making a contribution and supporting something beyond ourselves and our own self-interest.
Many of us pride ourselves on being shrewd investors and savvy shoppers, but how many people consider themselves great givers? Great giving is not defined by the amount of money one gives, but rather by how one gives. It’s an approach to effective giving that is not limited to those with large financial means. Anyone can engage in #GreatGiving, by following these three principles: give with intention, give with information, and give with others.
When we choose to donate to a charity, we make a statement about what our priorities are for the kind of world we want to live in. Giving with intention goes beyond giving with only our passion (though that is a crucial driver); it means giving with thoughtfulness and awareness to what we hope to accomplish.
Don’t give reflexively, give reflectively. Be active in your giving. Don’t passively give to an organization just because they stopped you on the street, sent you a solicitation by email or mail, produced a heartwarming commercial, or called you on the phone. Giving shouldn’t be a knee-jerk response to an emotional plea for support. Great giving means actively seeking out organizations that resonate with your passions and align with your values.
Great givers, like shrewd investors and savvy shoppers, seek out information before making decisions. According to research, while 85% of donors care about nonprofit performance, only about 20% of donors do any research on performance, and only roughly 5% give based on that research. With over $230 billion given annually by individuals in the US alone, there is an enormous opportunity for more giving to be based on information about nonprofit performance.
This means not merely trying to avoid crooks and scams, but having enough information to make an informed decision about where you are giving. One example would be going beyond the overhead myth, that false conception that financial ratios are the sole indicator of nonprofit performance. Instead, we should look for open, well-run, trustworthy organizations that manage towards results.
You should find organizations that have a credible plan for action. Ask yourself: what will the world look like if this organization is successful? How might my gift help this organization succeed? In reviewing organizations, see if you can find credible answers to some of the following key drivers of nonprofit performance (as promoted by the Independent Sector’s Charting Impact initiative):
Where to find answers to these questions? In the US, GuideStar has the most complete, up-to-date information on nonprofit data. (In the UK, you can search on Charity Commission.) Watchdog organizations like Charity Navigator and Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance provide ratings on thousands of charities. GreatNonprofits, (like Yelp for the nonprofit sector) has reviews from volunteers, donors, and others for you to review. For a deeper dive on select charities, seek out the in-depth analysis from research organizations like GiveWell or the Nonprofit Investor. Groups like Giving What We Can, based on the principle of effective altruism, provide recommendations on giving to evidence-based organizations.
As with investing, past performance is no guarantee of future results. Give to organizations that have a credible plan for what they will do with your gift in the future.
For many, giving is rightly seen as a deeply personal act, the private expression of one’s hopes for what a better world might look like. But we are social animals, deeply influenced by the actions of those around us.
Giving can be infectious, in the best possible way. By sharing our giving, we inspire and encourage others to give as well. GlobalGiving, the original crowdfunding platform, has tools to help you give alongside others to innovative and vetted projects around the world.
Beyond inspiration, by sharing our giving we are also providing our social networks with useful signaling information that can inform their own giving. Increasingly, people are coming to rely on personal recommendations; this social validation will continue to be a powerful tool for helping people assess nonprofit performance. Furthermore, by forming giving circles or finding local community foundations, we can tap into the expertise of other donors.
Finally, when you are ready to give, give money without restrictions. Just as you wouldn’t invest in just one department of a company, you shouldn’t restrict your gift to just one program of a nonprofit. Nonprofits require general operating support to keep their lights on and ensure that they have the capacity to meet their mission. If you have researched an organization and feel confident in the management’s capacity to execute a strategy that aligns with goals you share, then you should empower that organization’s leadership with an unrestricted gift. Don’t tie their hands by restricting the gift.
Ultimately, engaging in great giving requires thoughtful reflection. What kind of world do you want to live in? What kind of impact do you hope to make with your gift? To be a great giver means giving with intention, giving with information, and giving with others. Paraphrasing Friday Night Nights, when we give with clear eyes and full hearts, we can’t lose.
Many thanks to Brian Walsh for a compelling case to aspire to great giving this #GivingTuesday. Be sure to follow Brian and tune into live updates from around the world, using the Twitter hashtag #GivingTuesday.