Donating to charities

The next time you decide to donate to a charity, consider this:

“Instead of worrying about how charities spend their money, donors should be holding the organizations accountable for the results they achieve, just as they would a business they invest in. When charities invest in themselves, they become more efficient, they can plan for growth, and ultimately they can help more people in need. … encourage the charities you support to invest in modernizing their operations, so they can grow to be more effective and sustainable for the long term.” (Source)

I used to always review administrative costs before making donations, but rarely followed through by asking charities to justify how they spent their money. And, I got really grumpy at charities who send paper mail (to the point where I blacklisted a few organizations simply because of the monthly or more mail-outs).

In the past few years, I’ve paid more attention to their effectiveness. Some charities just get shit done and/or do their best to be useful during the crisis. Others are really good at planning long term and setting up programs that make small, but progressive, impacts over several years.

I don’t worry as much about how they spend their money. Did their office coffee maker die? Do they want to test a new technology to improve efficiencies? Do they need a team building day? All of these things will contribute to their cause because they are all things that improve their workplace effectiveness and/or moral.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use a bit of critical thinking. When you buy pink ribbon branded toilet paper, do you really think you’re making a difference? Companies or events can promote the Pink Ribbon campaign to get more support/dollars, but, often, the amount that actually goes towards cancer research or treatment is very small. It’s just like greenwashing, where companies claim to be eco-friendly though they may only be slightly less harmful to the environment than the next most popular alternative. Either way, you’re almost definitely going to get more impact by spending your money more wisely (ex: donating directly to breast cancer research or using non-toxic/re-usable cleaning alternatives like vinegar and rags).

In recent years, I’ve been using Canada Helps. Through them, I can donate as much or as little as I want while keeping my chosen level anonymity (which means no emails or paper mail asking for more money). I can make one-time donations or monthly donations, which I can cancel or change easily. No more trying to track down the donations department in the organization or making up excuses when people try to sweet talk me into continuing with my donations. And, all of my tax receipts are in one easy to access location.

Of course, you should try to donate time if you can. Most charities would love more hands. Money is useful, but only if an organization has enough people to mobilize and distribute whatever is needed (ex: deliver meals, provide medical assistance, clean rivers, etc.). Last year, a small charity that I volunteer with accumulated enough volunteer hours to equal a full time employee. That’s a pretty big deal because it means that they were able to get more done and use the money they had in other ways.

Regardless of what you donate, be thoughtful and focus on the effectiveness of the organization. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and/or redirect your money to another organization if you aren’t comfortable with how (and why) a charity uses donations.

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