Doing All the Good You Can

Tips to Remember During the Season of Giving

Generosity hits its peak during the holiday season, and that’s a good thing. At this time of year, we nonprofit directors often share our collective wisdom to help educate donors about how charities work and, more importantly, why supporters can feel confident that their donations—financial, sweat equity volunteerism, and in-kind goods—are being used to help support the mission and programs of their favorite nonprofits.

First, as businesslike as this sounds, nonprofits must raise money to fund our vital community programs. A former CEO and supervisor of mine once said to a group of young entrepreneurs, long before the popular show “Shark Tank” debuted on the air: “You have to understand that, at some point, you need to be willing to raise capital by giving up a part of your autonomy to your investors,” he explained. “Because if you don’t grow, your company basically becomes a nonprofit, and even nonprofits have to make money, or they’re out of business.”

Beyond those critical cash, stock, and other financial-asset donations, grants from foundations, government entities, businesses of all sizes, and other grant-making organizations are key major funders. Even many local churches and charitable-minded community thrift stores provide grants. Why? Well, in the old days, churches were the only public-charity providers in communities. But churches’ roles have changed, and with seemingly ever-dwindling congregant numbers, churches too have moved to support local nonprofits, thus focusing their resources on their church operations while leaving charitable-program decisions to local experts who spend every day working on community causes.

What’s more, local, state, and federal governmental entities long ago realized that locally-focused nonprofits—usually with lower overhead, salaries, and benefits—could often more efficiently manage the needs of local communities. That’s why our towns and county governments also help support local nonprofits via grants, especially since each nonprofit provides laser-focused attention on targeted needs.

Finally, this annual season of giving truly is a gift to every local nonprofit, and each charitable organization carefully plans and greatly depends on it. Still, as the warmer months roll around, many nonprofits, including LIFT-UP, find that the cupboards are literally bare and that program funding is skimpier. Planning for cash-flow issues is always a challenge for nonprofits, so they have developed giving programs such as automatic, monthly checking account and credit card withdrawal plans that work for both donors and their favorite nonprofits, and smooth income streams throughout the year.

While this brief nuts-and-bolts look at some of the business decisions that affect nonprofits might detract from the good-works news of these charitable entities, it’s important to add in the most priceless donation stream of all: volunteers! Worth their weight in gold, a nonprofit can never repay the generosity and toil of volunteers, nor can those organizations thrive without them.

However, finding loyal volunteers who are able to help on a regular schedule is the biggest challenge of all. Life is busy, and when personal and family obligations take precedence over a key volunteer’s appointed time at a nonprofit, the organization’s daily schedule—already overtaxed with too few staffers—must be adjusted on the spot. On the flip side, volunteers chime in loud and long that giving back to their favorite charitable organization is a priceless reward personally, unmatched by any potential paycheck.

Finally, giving locally has many additional rewards. Scattered research reveals that every dollar donated in a community churns five to seven times, helping individuals, families, and local businesses alike to thrive. For example, providing a monthly food allotment to a hungry family helps that family divert funds to rent, which helps pay the landlord, who then invests in maintenance services, etc. Thus, nonprofit giving really is a vital part of our local economy as well as to society, in general.

Hard financial facts aside, perhaps John Wesley, the Anglican clergyman, evangelist, and co-founder of the Methodist movement in the Church of England, summed it up best way back in the 18th century when he said, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

Amy Barr is the executive director of LIFT-UP.