The holidays are seen as a time to donate and volunteer. It shows the best in us to want to reach out to others. But like any action, there can be more effective and less effective ways of helping.
When you donate: donate local, and small. Every single organization needs money to run, but your money will have a much greater impact for a small organization. When you give to a United Way or Goodwill, or other such large organizations, usually only a very small percentage of what you give ends up going to the organization’s constituents—even with an amount like $10,000. These are organizations that get millions of dollars in donations and give away a lot of that money, sometimes to good organizations and sometimes to ones whose missions you may not agree with. Even though you can give directly through them to one of their partner organizations, there is still a bit of red tape with that on your end, and for the receiving organization to even be a partner.
When you donate: donate local, and small.
Smaller organizations might have a different approach or just not meet the numbers the bigger umbrella organization sets (e.g., United Way) but meets other goals of their own. “In some cases, only 30 or 40 cents of every dollar given to a charity actually goes toward the people it’s supposed to help. Administrative costs, and other costs sometimes eat up the donations. Inefficient charities tend to enrich a few executives at the top without doing a lot of good overall” (source: http://moneysmartlife.com/ways-to-maximize-your-charity-donations/). For example, an organization that gets 500 jobs for people might not get them the best jobs for them, but an organization who gets 50 good jobs may not meet the metrics needed.
Small non-profits sometimes are innovative in a way that might not always get them big funders. Any donations to smaller organizations have a bigger impact on resources than a larger organization that gets the same amount. Direct funding can actually keep some organizations going that wouldn’t have the chance otherwise. No matter what, make sure to do your homework on the organization you give to, so you know where their funding goes. You can always look on at any organization’s Form 990 or 990-N to see where they get and spend their money. Most organizations should have it on their web pages, but you can use websites like GuideStar. No matter what, non-profit giving is tax deductible as long as the organization has a 501(c)(3). Sites like Charity Navigator can help in this process. But the best way to know where to donate is to get personally involved, which leads us to volunteering.
When you volunteer, make the effort to spread your time out across the year.
Many organizations take volunteers and many people love to do that during the holidays. This can be helpful, but with many people having the same idea, sometimes the holidays are the only time places have too many people volunteering during the year, soup kitchens and homeless shelters and children’s organizations and homes most of all. Make the effort to spread your time out across the year. If you feel you really must volunteer during the holidays, check with places that may not get thought of as often, such as a retirement homes, animal shelters, or, give blood and plasma. Make sure the work that the organization is doing is actually seen as helpful, either in the short term or long. See how the organizations help people achieve their goals and become less dependent on the organizations themselves. Find out where their funding goes as well.
Know too that there are many different roles you can take on to help, including marketing, research, and lots of others things that you might never think of, so see what you can do either for one time, or on a continuing basis. Good places to check out are: Volunteer Match, Idealist, and Hands on Network. When in doubt, ask people in your community, on social media, or in forums or chat rooms. Check to see who is on the staff because some organizations are more volunteer based than others.
When you give, give smart, give small, give local!
Founder of Jason’s Connection – an online resource for those with disabilities, mental health, aging and other needs. Jason was awarded an M.S. in Cultural Foundations of Education and Advanced Certificate in Disability Studies from Syracuse University. Jason is also a Project Coordinator and Research Associate at the Burton Blatt Institute, an international think tank for Disability Rights and Human Justice at Syracuse University. He regularly contributes to the blog in his own series called Jason’s View and travels the country consulting and speaking about disability issues and rights. To read more from Jason Harris, read Jason's View.