When we think of philanthropy and notable philanthropists, names like Buffet, Gates, and Tata may come to mind. The person that SHOULD come to mind is you and me.
I recently was asked to attend an NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meeting. The people who are instrumental in this program wanted our church board members to see first-hand what was being accomplished due to our church providing a meeting place and other support to this group. I observed many volunteers who provided and served meals to about 70 people. In addition to food, an opportunity for spiritual nourishment is also available.
A group of 8 people prepared and served a full dinner to those in attendance. To put that in perspective, this is done at least once each week by these volunteers. Assuming a similar weekly attendance multiplied by 52 weeks equals more than 3,600 meals every year served and prepared by this small group of volunteers.
I sat at a table with these folks. What I can say with certainty is that this means a great deal to those in need. The meal is important. Knowing that others care enough to take the time to do all this is greatly appreciated.
While large donations might make the news, donations by each of us are just as important.
The efficiency of this program leaves me no doubt about the use of contributions. A local church provides the space used for the meeting. All of the food is provided and prepared by volunteers. There are no paid positions. Even leftover food is boxed up and sent home with participants.
What about the charitable endeavors that you want to support?
Is there a way to know if those in charge are fiscally responsible? Often, large charities face challenges as to how funds are utilized. Some organizations are good custodians of donated funds, while others are not. How do you know that your donations are being used efficiently? For local charities, it’s a bit easier to determine an organization’s efficiency. For organizations less accessible, there is no absolute way to determine if they are meeting their fiduciary responsibility.
Start with this basic; check to see if the charity seeking donations has a tax-exempt status. Visit IRS.Gov. You can use the Tax-exempt Organization Search or TEOS. Once you have determined that the organization is, in fact, a non-profit, be sure it is defined as a 501 (c) (3) if you plan to tax deduct your contribution. Next, checking a charity on charitynavigator.org can be very helpful. You can see the cost-effectiveness and overall health of the charity you are interested in.
The availability of Internet research is great.
Still, there’s nothing that compares to an in-person visit to the charity you are thinking of supporting. If you can actually participate beyond the financial aspect, that’s even better. As I have said before, sometimes the smartest part of your brain is in your gut.