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7 Questions to Ask Before Donating to a Non-Profit

How many times have you donated to an organization and wondered if your money was being put to good use? I think we all have that slightly unsettling feeling when we donate because we want to know that our resources are stewarded for maximum effectiveness.


Unfortunately, not all non-profits are created equal and some are downright dishonest about how the funds are distributed. In addition, there are some nonprofits that claim deep impact when in reality they are superficially addressing symptoms rather than applying holistic practices to address deeper issues.


To be clear, these questions are most applicable to nonprofits that serve marginalized, vulnerable and at-risk populations. I recognize that there are non-profits that simply provide short-term needs or that work with animals--some of these questions don’t apply to those type of organizations but they are a guideline of things to consider.


7 Questions to Ask Non-Profits Before You Donate:


  1. What are your short-term/long-term goals?

It’s not always clear in an organization’s mission statement how exactly they serve people. For instance, let’s say you are considering giving to a local after-school mentoring program. You’d want to know who they mentor and why they mentor and how many kids they mentor. How many kids do they hope to mentor by the end of the year? In other words, will your money be used directly to accomplish these goals? Long-term vision is equally important because you learn of the positive change the short-term goals ultimately accomplish in the communities being served. Questions asked include: What do they want to accomplish by mentoring x number of kids this year? What is their hope for those who benefit from their program? Ultimately, sustainability must be factored in because everyone’s hope is that one changed person has the power to change his/her sphere of influence for the better. Good nonprofit work builds people and people build community.


2. How does your organization empower the people you serve?

It’s a tricky thing to bring attention to the needs of people without undermining their dignity or worst-exploiting them. It’s a fine line that many of us manage judiciously--how to draw YOU, the potential donor, to the stories of the people we serve without making them look like, well...a charity case. While I could write an entire blog on this concept for now I will say this: It is NEVER okay to expose people’s deficits for the sake of getting money to help them. A question I ask myself: “Is this how I would want my child/mother/friend/husband talked about or treated?” “If my child were an orphan, would I want hundreds of visitors to hold her every year so that people could be motivated to help her?” If my teenager needed mentoring, would I want her list of infractions and failures to circulate through church groups so someone could help her?” NO. Nonprofits that serve people should build up their self-agency and equip them in a way that sets them up for success. They aren’t our pet projects--they are PEOPLE created in the image of God.


3. What percentage of your Program Budget goes towards Marketing/Communications/Salary?

Social marketing, print collateral and strong branding are important if we are going to get people’s attention. In fact, a robust marketing budget is critical if a non-profit seeks to break beyond a mere existence and aim for healthy growth, but it should not exceed 15% of an organization’s Programming budget. According to the BBB, at least 65 percent of the nonprofit’s total expenses should be for program expenses, including salaries (and marketing). The nonprofit’s total expenses should not include more than 35 percent for fundraising.

In other words, make sure the nonprofit you support isn’t mostly fluffy feel goods with superficial programming. If their marketing is strong, their programming should be stronger.

4. How are you collaborating with your community and other organizations to accomplish your goals?

Non-profits face some of the world’s most challenging problems on shoe-string budgets and often the problems they face are rooted in other systemic issues. In order to apply more holistic solutions to problems, organizations that truly seek change are open to community collaborations. If the same after-school mentoring program seeks long-term change, then they are going to build relationships with schools and the families that they serve. They may even partner with local churches and other government agencies. This shows their desire to meet their goals. I once lost an opportunity to work with a non-profit simply because I would not take on their brand. World changing work requires collaboration and some organizations will not have it if it isn’t about their agenda or brand. Collaborations are key when it comes to building positive change from the ground up--if there are none, then it could be a warning sign.



Check back on Thursday for Part 2 of this blog! In the meantime, share with us what’s important to you when it comes to supporting a non-profit financially?







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