Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Contributions: choosing worthy non-profits

It's the holiday season, the end of the year, and perhaps you're contemplating whether to get Uncle Harry a new terrycloth bathrobe to replace the one he's been wearing out for the past eight years - or you're worrying over whether Cousin Roberta will bring one of her infamous homemade twelve-pound fruitcakes to the family get-together. Also, you have probably been noticing a lot of solicitations from various conservation groups hoping for that one last donation before the tax year runs out. Ah, 'tis the season right?

Well, I don't mean to be cynical really. It's been a tough year for non-profit organizations. With the economy being hard on all of us, it makes it even more difficult for conservation groups to find the funding to continue their operations. If you're conservation-minded like I am, you would to donate to all of them. After all, their causes are just and by their continuance the collective good in conservation would be served. Right?

The harsh reality is that most of us can't be that charitable, and so we must be selective. But what will be your criteria in choosing a worthy organization? This would be a personal call and I wouldn't want to second-guess anyone's good intentions. It could be the size of the organization, the cause or the animal or animals served, or perhaps the scientists or celebrities affiliated with it, or what their future hoped-for goals and objectives are - it's totally your call.

I'll just say that, for me, I have always relied on one standard: Accomplishments. What the organization has quantitatively done to move the cause forward, some tangible measure of success - that is what I rely on. After all of the petitions, Facebook pages, rallies, and bake-offs - what has the organization done to truly change the future of this planet?

It would seem that with that kind of criteria, only the largest, most well-established of non-profits would have a chance of garnering my donation. There probably is a large measure of truth in that assessment. Large organizations are better able to speak to the policy and decision makers of the world with greater credibility and I do watch closely with what is happening in those circles either nationally or internationally.

But there is also great work being accomplished at the regional or local level. So, again, it's not necessarily the size of the organization or the extent of their reach. It's what they have done that counts.

There can always be a question as to whether the money you contribute is being well spent. Some organizations submit themselves to the scrutiny of an independent evaluator. Charity Navigator provides a complex rating system to show how much of each dollar goes to the actual cause as opposed to operational or administrative costs. A four-star designation represents its highest rating.

I would hope that all of you will consider making a donation of some kind to a non-profit environmental or conservation organization this season. Hopefully, you will review their literature or their website to see what their accomplishments are - if they have any, they should be proudly and prominently visible. In the end, our goal as donors is not to just soothe our conscience but to ensure that real progress is being made. That makes us as responsible as the organizations we support.

Read more about charity ratings or evaluators at the Huddle blog.

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