December 10, 2018 — When many of us look forward to the holidays, we anticipate treasured times with friends and loved ones. But it is also a time of year when many of us think of those who are less fortunate. Our thoughts turn to charity.

Some of us also like to give as the end of the year approaches so that we qualify for a charitable deduction (a reduction in taxable income by the amount of charitable contributions made in that tax year).

It’s also a time when nonprofit organizations make a final push to raise money. Your mailbox, inbox and social media feed will probably start filling up soon with requests for donations.

It can be tempting to send a check here and a check there to the nonprofits who make a pitch that moves you to take action. There is nothing wrong with this kind of charity and, indeed, many nonprofits depend on it for their very survival.

But it’s also worthwhile to spend some time thinking about the strategy behind your giving.

Theodore Roosevelt said: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” That’s good advice.

Where do you want to give?

Ask yourself this: If I could spend a month doing anything for my community, what would it be? If you’re one of the fortunate families that still sits down to dinner together, go around the table and have everyone answer the question. You’ll have a great conversation and it will probably serve as an excellent guide for your giving. Also, when children are involved in giving and volunteering, they learn the satisfaction and value of contributing to their communities.

Does the charity match your passion?

There are almost 2 million nonprofits and congregations in the United States. There are hundreds of each in Berks County alone. So you can probably find an organization that is doing exactly what you would want to be doing if you had the time. No matter what cause you want to support – whether it is feeding the impoverished or helping people learn to read and write – there’s a charity in Berks County that shares your goals. Find it and confirm (don’t assume) that it offers the kind of programs and services that you want to support. If you want some help and Google isn’t being effective, you can contact Berks County Community Foundation.

Is the charity fiscally responsible and effective?

Before you give to any charity this holiday season:

  • Examine the organization’s financial statements. Many charities have that information available on their websites or on org or both. A charity that is productive and viable is more capable of pursuing its mission. If you have a question about anything you find, ask them. If they’re honorable, they should be happy to answer.
  • Analyze whether the organization is making an impact. If it is, it should be readily apparent that it is an effective charity and, if it’s not readily apparent, inquire. Most charities track their impact and are thrilled to share it.

Does the charity have strong leadership?

Many good charities have forward-thinking, strategic and respected leaders. If an organization’s leadership does not seem to have a plan or does not seem confident in its ability to continue its mission for a long time, you should move on in your search. If an organization’s leadership is often in flux, that’s a red flag, too. A high turnover rate might be a sign that an organization is struggling.

Do you trust the organization enough to give without strings attached?

Donors – especially those giving substantial amounts – sometimes like to earmark donations for specific programs or equipment. But as an outsider looking in, you may be making the wrong judgment about what that organization most needs. If you’ve done enough research that you’re comfortable giving a donation, you should be able to give without hesitation or restriction. That allows an organization to be flexible and respond to changing needs.

How much do you want to give?

If you plan to make a significant donation, confer with your financial and philanthropic advisors. Discuss your assets and the various financial options that are available. They will be able to help you choose the option that makes the most sense for you.

If this seems like too much work, don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance. And don’t let the duty of being a responsible giver deter you from giving.


Kevin K. Murphy, President

Berks County Community Foundation