Making sense of getting involved
Genetics, evolution, group dynamics. Credit it to what you will, but this much is clear: People can be remarkably generous. According to a 2012 study conducted by Bank of America, 74 percent of individuals of high net worth agreed that a top motivator for philanthropy is “feeling moved about how a gift can make a difference.” In other words, people support charities because it feels right. When we give, we more fully appreciate our own good fortune while also listening to a personal responsibility and building a connection to others, which in and of itself, is fulfilling. Simply put, giving makes us feel whole.
By contributing, donors and volunteers are reminded about the bigger picture—other people and other communities—which serves as a reflection of who we are. In addition, the impact of charitable work clearly matters, which is not always clear in our personal and professional lives.
So while charity has a way of quieting the mind, through connection and impact, getting started can be anything but clear. How does one find the right group or mission to support? How does one choose volunteer work, and what would the day-to-day work actually be? Who do we call, and what questions should we ask?
Time for guidance from a pro. Juanita James is the president of Fairfield County Community Foundation, which helps Fairfield County residents and corporations give back to the region through strategic charitable giving. She has earned trust in the community. “I am very impressed with the leadership that Juanita and the dedicated staff at FCCF are engaged in delivering,” says John Vaccaro, CEO of Westport Resources, financial advisors. “This is why we chose to dedicate 100 percent of the gross proceeds of our recent charity golf outing to their care. I am confident that these funds will be leveraged to best fulfill the most urgent needs in our Fairfield County communities.”
Honest and articulate, Juanita acknowledges that she knows people wonder about what they want to do and how to start. To help, she organizes all those initial considerations into four easy actions steps. Consider it a road map to giving, so that we can follow our call to help others.
Think About Joy
“Ask yourself which causes bring you joy, make you indignant or break your heart,” Juanita advises. “What experiences or opportunities have been instrumental in your life and that you want others to have? What do you want the future to look like?”
Philanthropy is highly personal: Eighty-nine percent of donations are given by individuals, rather than corporations. Therefore, step one begins with self-reflection and critical thinking. Some call it soul searching.
Consider Your Options
“Jump in,” says Juanita. “Consider whether you want to give locally, where you can see the impact of your gift. Gather information about the causes you’ve identifited. Learn about nonprofit organizations working in these areas. In Fairfield County, there are more than 1,720 nonprofits. Your community foundation and local United Way can be terrific resources for learning about local causes and nonprofits addressing them. Also decide if you want to give during your lifetime, or give later by donating a part of your estate. Talk with your financial estate planning advisors about how you can provide for not only your family but also your favorite community causes.”
Dig A Little Deeper
When selecting nonprofits, don’t be seduced by low overhead expenditures alone. In June, charity watchdogs GuideStar, BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator wrote an open letter to Nonprofit Quarterly addressed to the “Donors of America” debunking the common practice of measuring an organization’s effectiveness by their administrative or overhead costs—or the percentage of costs that go to administration or fundraising. Called the “Overhead Myth,” the letter read: “We ask you to pay attention to other factors of nonprofit performance: transparency,governance, leadershipand results.” (You can find the letter online at nonprofitquarterly.org/philanthropy/22467-the-overhead-myth.html.)
This misunderstanding perpetuates the idea that a nonprofit is “good” if it spends no more than 10 to 15 percent on overhead. Juanita advises, “When you’re weighing your charitable giving options, certainly turn to these websites, but don’t stop there. To make an informed decision—and have the biggest impact—talk to people who are very familiar with these nonprofit organizations.”
Giving back also means putting in hours as a volunteer. In 2011, 28.5 percent of Connecticut residents volunteered their time. That’s approximately 1,020,000 people. Three websites can help you find volunteer opportunities: Volunteer Match (volunteermatch.org), Connected Citizen (theconnectedcitizen.org), as well as United Way (ctunitedway.org), for matching your available time, whether it’s an hour, once a month, or daily, with the nonprofit of your choice.
Write A Plan
Sit down and create your giving plan and budget. “Ask yourself, ‘Do I want to give back in time or dollars, or both? How many organizations can I afford to invest in? Do I want to make fewer, larger gifts, or more, smaller gifts?’” says Juanita. “Set aside a percentage of your budget for unexpected giving opportunities, like for when your best friend asks you to attend a fundraising event with her.”
Juanita sums it up: “Giving is joyful when you give to what matters most to you, and you see you are helping to make a difference. It’s very personal.” Indeed, it is, for those who give, and for those who receive.