As we approach the end of the year, many of us are motivated to give donations to the causes we hold dear. If you are considering a gift to charity now or in the future you might want to do a little investigating to ensure that your gift has maximum impact. What should you expect from the charities you support?

1. Information about the mission and governing board. On the organization’s website and in other documents, you should be able to easily locate their mission statement and the members of their governing body. Additionally, practically all non-profits also make information about senior management easily accessible.

2. Information about the organization’s financial position. Educated donors know that looking at an organization’s financial statements and/or annual report can tell them a lot. If these documents are not readily available on the web, then a quick call to the organization’s headquarters should be all that is needed.

3. Information on how the gift is going to be used. Most organizations are very clear in their fundraising efforts to share how gifts will be used. If you wish to have your gift restricted to a specific service or program, most organizations are willing to accept such restricted gifts assuming the restrictions are aligned with their mission and philosophy. For gifts of a certain size, many non-profits are willing to draw up an agreement between the non-profit and the donor to ensure that the donor’s intent is honored.

However, before you begin applying restrictions to your gifts, we would recommend that you consider a gift to general operations. Natural disasters provide an excellent example. People tend to give in times of tragedy, but the organizations that save lives immediately after disasters need funding year round and for every aspect of their operation if they are going to be truly effective at disaster relief.

4. Appropriate and timely acknowledgement. Most non-profits set standards for the acknowledgement of gifts including how long the organization has to send a thank you letter, the extent to which gifts are tax deductible, and confidentiality of donor information. If you wish to give anonymously, you should make your wishes known before making your gift.

5. Transparency and professionalism. If you have a question about the organization, you can expect a prompt, thorough, and it should go without saying, truthful answer. If you get the sense that you are being deceived or manipulated, don’t give. There are so many worthy causes that there is no reason for you to support an organization about which you have concerns. Most fundraisers take great pride in their work and you have the right to expect a high level of professionalism from them.

Finally, practically all non-profits really value their relationships with their donors and will do virtually anything to keep donors happy. However, a bit of restraint on the donor’s part is also required.

What donors should not assume is that their gifts give them the right to decide how programs or services are run. The staff at non-profits have, in many instances, devoted their entire professional lives to the mission of the organization and they have developed extensive expertise in the organization’s area of service. Furthermore, no organization can possibly fulfill the wishes of all of their donors, no matter how much they would like to.

So do a little research before you give and then, to the best of your ability, give generously.

Xan Blake is the founder and president of the Blake Partnership, Inc., a Princeton Junction-based consulting firm specializing in the needs of non-profits. Blake brings 22 years of non-profit management experience including expertise in fund development, governance, strategic planning, and board training all of which are designed to bring important charitable visions to life. She can be contacted at xanblake@gmail.com or 609-610-5116.

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