Feeling Generous? Here’s Some Tips for Giving

In times like these, it’s easy to want to help and not know how. The news is packed with stories of economic injustice, much of it urgent. A thousand children need legal representation today. Schools in Puerto Rico are closing down. Michigan’s donated water has run out. It’s something different every day, and for most of us, the only help we can offer is to open our wallets.

The urgency makes it difficult to gauge the effectiveness and trustworthiness of charity campaigns. GoFundMes and the like set up by private individuals feel good to support, as they represent the kind of grassroots activism we all admire. But even well-meaning organizers may fall short of their promised activities, and many don’t have good intentions.

That’s why it’s important to take the time to investigate a charitable campaign before giving. A quick search may turn its name up on a list of common scams.

For a more concrete review, check with and Charity Navigator, which hold charity organizations responsible for transparency and fiscal responsibility. New organizations that pop up immediately following a disaster are difficult to verify.

Crowdfunding campaigns, while often among the first to pop up in response to an emergency, are difficult or impossible to vet. If you do decide to donate to one of these, follow up by monitoring the campaign’s activity and discussions. If anything seems off-base, quick reports to the hosting site may keep the money from disappearing.

If you do support small grassroots campaigns, look for a few earmarks of good planning. Specific uses for donations and how they are intended to help is a good starting point. Avoid vague and broad promises. Organizers who set up transparency from the beginning, with real names and contact information available, are far more credible.

We all want to help, and monetary donations are desperately vital. Lawyers, marches, soup kitchens, and clean water all cost money. But take the time to ensure that your money will go where you intend it to.


Tips for Helping Those Affected by Hurricane Harvey

Every major crisis comes with a cacophony of calls for donations. And Hurricane Harvey is no exception. Tens of thousands of people are displaced, thousands of homes gone. The flooding is off the scale, even a week after it all began. For every person looking to help, it can feel like a thousand hands are outstretched in their direction.

Here are a few tips to narrow down your own charity options.

Look for organizations on the ground. People who are already there, who you can see helping on the news. A lot of the time, this means the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Both have had their problems, but both also have demonstrated expertise in disaster relief. Other good grounded organizations include the United Way of Greater Houston and the Greater Houston Community Foundation. They both have long histories in the area.

This is the other half the same coin but it bears emphasis: avoid new groups. They may seem tailor-made to match your sympathies, but they could easily vanish as quickly as they appeared. High flight risk, in other words. Privately-run donation drives fall under this same umbrella. These are especially common in online communities. So is the organizer disappearing with the proceeds, or showing a faked-up receipt of donation.

Donate money, not goods. There will be organizations offering to collect blankets and clothes and used toys and food. They come from a well-meaning place, but they aren’t helpful. A 100-pack of blankets can be bought on Amazon for less money and less time than it would cost to collect and ship hand-me-downs. Companies out for more than karma points will only be asking for money and maybe volunteers.

And last but not least, consider the long-term. Hurricane Katrina was 12 years ago and NOLA’s last refugees are only just now moving back. Houston and the other washed-out parts of Texas will need donations in six months and in six years as much as they do today.

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Beware of Hurricane Harvey Charity Scams

One thing about natural disasters: They bring out the best—and the worst—in people.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the resultant flooding, aid has been pouring in to Texas. Dozens of disaster relief organizations either have or are arranging for staff to be present to assist the people and animals left homeless by Harvey. Not only that, but area residents are helping one another, too.

Unfortunately, though, there are always people who will take advantage of our desire to help the victims of natural disasters. Scammers are now using the Hurricane Harvey disaster to trick people into clicking links, both on Facebook and Twitter, and through phishing emails trying to solicit charitable giving for flood victims. Here are some examples provided by KnowBe4’s Security Awareness Training Blog:

  • Facebook pages dedicated to victim relief that contain links to scam websites.
  • Tweets are going out with links to charitable websites soliciting donations, but in reality they include spam links or links that lead to a malware infection.
  • Phishing emails appearing in users’ inboxes asking for donations to #HurricaneHarvey Relief Fund.

KnowBe4 suggests that you send employees, friends, and family an email about this scam of the week. Here’s their suggested text:

“Heads-up! Bad guys are exploiting the Hurricane Harvey disaster. There are fake Facebook pages, tweets are going out with fake charity websites, and phishing emails are sent out asking for donations to #HurricaneHarvey Relief Funds.

Don’t fall for any scams. If you want to make a donation, go to the website of the charity of your choice and make a donation. Type the address in your browser or use a bookmark. Do not click on any links in emails or text you might get. Whatever you see in the coming weeks about Hurricane Harvey disaster relief… THINK BEFORE YOU CLICK.

So, what do you do if you want to make a donation and be sure your money is going to a legit organization and your credit card information isn’t going to be hijacked by scammers? Consumerist recommends the following:

  • Don’t be shy about asking who wants your money. If you’re solicited for a donation, ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for, and the percentage of your donation that will go to the charity and to the fundraiser.
  • Call the charity directly. Fiind out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name.
  • Trust your gut and check your records. Callers may try to trick you by thanking you for a pledge you didn’t make. If you don’t remember making the donation or don’t have a record of your pledge, resist the pressure to give.
  • Be wary of charities that spring up overnight. This is especially true after natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey.
  • Watch out for similar-sounding names. Some phony charities use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations.
  • Do not send or give cash donations. Cash can be lost or stolen. For security or tax records, it’s best to pay by credit card—BUT look for indicators that the site is secure like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL that begins “https” (the S stands for “secure”).
  • Check charity review websites. Sites like Charity Navigator or Guidestar to see if the organization is listed as a 501(c)(3) charity and that the site indicates it to be a trustworthy charity.
  • Report scam charities. We’ve got some tips for how to do that here.

So, who should you donate to? At this point, organizations that are meeting basic needs like food, fresh water, and shelter should be priorities. Some organizations you can consider include:

Photo: Houston, Texas, flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. This isn’t even the worst of it. Credit: michelmond /


Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty if You Can’t Afford to Donate

A lot of people find themselves asking, “When is the right time to donate?” The answer is simple: when all of your needs are taken care of first.

If that sounds selfish, allow us to explain why it’s not.

As a society, we’ve been conditioned to put others’ needs above our own. But when you sacrifice your personal necessities in the name of others, you’ll end up feeling stressed, dissatisfied, and unfulfilled.

Generosity is not supposed to make you feel that way. Giving to others is supposed to make you feel inspired, joyful, and exuberant. And the only way you’ll be able to experience those positive vibes is to give from a place of love rather than guilt.

If you’re not doing well financially, chances are you already feel bad about your situation. Don’t compound those feelings of guilt by giving away money that you don’t have.

And for the record, there’s nothing wrong with putting yourself first. In fact, in survival situations, it’s a necessity. Just think about how airlines encourage passengers to put their own oxygen masks on first before helping others.

Put another way, think about this quote from Eleanor Brownn:

“Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve others on an empty vessel.”

If giving is your passion even though it’s not financially feasible to do so now, then use your current misfortunate as motivation to earn more income. In other words, it’s time to set some goals. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much money do I need to be making in order to cover my own basic expenses?
  • How much money would I like to give to charity?
  • What are some ways that I can increase my earnings?
  • What is a realistic timeline that I can set for myself to accomplish my financial goals?

Remember: just because you cannot donate now doesn’t mean that you’ll never be able to. Your current predicament is not your permanent predicament. There’s always room change, grow, and donate in the future.


How to Use Philanthropy as a Means of Marketing

In today’s competitive market place, it’s becoming harder and harder to promote one’s name, brand, or business. One unique and underused marketing strategy involves making a sizeable charitable donation.

If that sounds a little unethical, it’s not. There’s nothing with capitalizing on the opportunity to self-promote and do some good in the world­­­ at the same time—two birds, one stone.

No, seriously, it’s done all the time. In fact, it’s proven to be an effective strategy for celebrities, politicians, athletes, and business leaders alike.

Take, for example, this headline featured in The New York Times: Chance the Rapper Donates $1 Million to Chicago’s Public Schools. Is Chance the Rapper legitimately passionate about education and the arts? Absolutely! But was he also doing it as a means to garner positive press around his name? Probably. But again, there’s nothing wrong with that.

As a general rule of thumb, the larger the donation, the more press it’s going to get. But in some cases, a person or a company may not need to make national headlines. This is especially true of localized businesses whose target audience resides in the immediate area. In that case, a $20,000-$50,000 donation is enough to make the local papers or news stations.

But if the goal is to reach a wider audience, the donation will need to be substantially larger. How large? At least $100,000. But there are other factors to consider as well.

The type of charity that one gives to matters just as much (if not more) than the amount of the donation. Going back to the example of Chance the Rapper, his donation was particularly noteworthy due to his own personal background.

Chance the Rapper, whose real name is Chancelor Bennett, is a Chicago native who grew up in the West Chatham neighborhood. He decided to give to schools that are located in financially ailing districts—schools that coincidentally have a lot of minority students. Being African American, his donation made for a great story about how race intersects with money, education, and access to resources. That’s why the news of his donation made headlines.

Businesses looking to promote their services should seek to emulate this type of philanthropy. The best way to ensure that the donation will capture the media’s attention is to look at it through the eyes of the press. In other words, businesses should ask themselves this key question: is this a story that is engaging, interesting, and worth reading?


The Most Costly Mistake That Charities Make

As the nonprofit sector grows increasingly competitive, charities cannot afford to make too many mistakes. Unfortunately, there’s still one mistake in particular that charities are making, and it’s costing them both donors and resources.

The mistake is inundating donors with unwanted solicitations, whether that’s in the form of snail mail, e-mails, texts, or phone calls. It’s costly because it takes up time, money, and assets and in the end it only annoys donors and makes them less likely to donate in the future.

Part of the reason it’s still so commonly committed is because once upon a time, it was considered a best practice. But it is now 2017. People live busy lives. The average American is already swamped with junk mail; the last thing they need is more spam.

Do this instead: ask donors if they would like to receive newsletters and other information pertaining to the charity. Better yet, leave a checkbox on their donation form so that they don’t feel compelled to say “yes” when asked in person.

Believe it or not, there are literally thousands of people who just want to make a one-time donation… and that’s okay. It’s unrealistic to think that sending tons of mail will convert this demographic into life-long donors. If anything, it will have the reverse effect.

Not to mention, due to technology, most donors refer to an organization’s website for all the latest news and updates. Heavily invested donors can also follow the organization on social media as a way to stay current.

In the end, if the person cares enough about the charity and the cause, they will continue to donate. It is the charity’s responsibility to ask donors whether or not they would like to receive additional news or information pertaining to the organization. It’s all about respecting the wants and desires of contributors.


3 Tips for Getting a Job in the Nonprofit Sector

The nonprofit sector is notoriously hard to break into. But just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. With a few helpful pointers, nearly anyone can find a career in the field.

Tip #1: Research How Nonprofit Organizations Function

Ideally, employers are looking for candidates who already have experience working in the nonprofit sector. But younger job seekers, particularly those fresh out of college, may not have this experience yet. A quick and easy way to overcome this obstacle is to research how nonprofit organizations function. Candidates should know how organizations get their funding, what the requirements are for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and be familiar with common terms that are used in the industry.

Tip #2: Volunteer

The sooner, the better. No, seriously. Volunteer experience leaves a lasting impression with any employer, but this is especially true for those in the nonprofit sector. Candidates will have a hard time convincing employers that they are passionate about giving back to the community without the experience to back it up. Often times, college students make the mistake of waiting until after they graduate to volunteer. With only a few months of volunteer experience under their belt, it often looks like a last-ditch effort to secure a job.

Tip #3: Attend Events

The same old, worn out, cliché advice about networking holds true for the nonprofit sector just as much as it does for any other industry. A great way to start building those connections is by attending events, whether that’s a fundraising event or a conference. Not only does it show a high level of interest and engagement, but it also shows dedication. Plus, nothing beats being able to talk to someone face-to-face. In a world where an average of 118 people apply for a single job, it’s critical that applicants set themselves apart in some way.


The Double-Edged Sword of a Celebrity Spokesperson

A celebrity spokesperson can be a huge boon for a nonprofit organization, but on the other hand, they can also be a huge roadblock. Take Tom Hiddleston, for example. Hiddleston recently earned the wrath of the Internet for expressing pride that a show he worked on was appreciated by medics from Doctors Without Borders.

Twitter users accused the actor of being a “white savior” because he was trying to bring attention to humanitarian efforts in the South Sudan. The whole debacle was taken out of context and blown way out of proportion. But that’s not the point.

Because he now has some negative press about him, so does the United Nations Children’s Fund (the nonprofit organization that he was serving as spokesman for). It goes to show that high-profile allies can and will be criticized for everything they do, and any affiliated organizations will have to suffer those consequences as well.

Angelina Jolie is another good example. She has done a great deal of good work with the United Nations since 2001. However, if social media worked then like it does now, that career would have been cut short because at some point she probably would have said or done something that the Internet could jump all over.

Social media is a powerful tool, but it’s far too often used to bully people, famous or otherwise. When a nonprofit teams up with a celebrity, they have to carefully consider what kinds of social media fallout they might have to face.

While there are some celebrities who are obviously not worth working with, there are others who would make for excellent spokespeople. The downside is that it’s impossible to predict the future and what could happen down the line at an awards show or red carpet event.

In considering whether or not to partner up with a celebrity, it’s important for nonprofits to have an eye on social media, which is where any little mistake is going develop into a full-blown scandal. The cult of celebrity status is much more fragile now that news spreads like wildfire. It’s important to think ahead, and be ready for “damage control” should something go wrong.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore at Flickr Creative Commons. 


Nonprofits Need to Think about Security

Preventing fraud in nonprofits is sometimes just a matter of actually thinking about accountability. The Lumberton High School band’s booster club had one person handling the mostly cash donations that they took in, which is how that person managed to steal over $70,800 dollars from the group.

If there had been even one additional person responsible for that money, that theft could likely have been reduced or even prevented. The nonprofit sector is so vulnerable to fraud because, unlike the for-profit or public sectors, there are far less security measures in place, either required by law or simply put in place by ethical practices. While there are certainly more security minded nonprofits out there, most are small organizations with few employees that, though they mean well, can easily succumb to relatively simple fraud schemes.

So how do we fix this? By becoming, as an entire sector of the economy, more security conscious. This means more checks and balances. Everything from writing ethical guidelines to tasking multiple people with keeping track of donations and expenditures should be included. For some nonprofits, it could even mean not taking cash donations at all, or at least making it a rule that two people have to be working together when accepting such donations.

The needs of an individual organization are going to vary, of course, which means that the security concerns will vary as well. But the first step has to be realizing that security is a concern, and then sitting down to address it. Even if an organization has no history of fraud, that doesn’t mean it will never be subject to it in the future.

In the case of the aforementioned Lumberton band booster club, that theft was happening over several years, so its possible to have a history of fraud without even knowing it. Why should an organization wait until after they’ve been victimized to put preventative measures in place?


The Season of Giving: Breast Cancer Edition

‘Tis the season…of donating to charities. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation offers a great way to give to a community working hard to treat and ultimately end breast cancer. And there are many other nonprofits also working to educate the public and support research.

Unfortunately, we live in an age where giving to a charity isn’t as easy as it ought to be. If you’re looking to support breast cancer research and survivors this holiday season, here’s what you need to know.

Where should my donations go?

The Breast Cancer Research Foundation is a great place to start. With high-profile donors including Owl Rock’s Marc Lipschultz, Discovery Capital Management’s Rob Citrone, and billionaire media investor Herbert J. Siegel, the BCRF’s work draws the support of big names from all walks of life.

Other great foundations waiting for your donations: Living Beyond Breast Cancer, The National Breast Cancer Foundation, and The Breast Cancer Fund. (All of these organizations received a rating of three stars or higher from Charity Navigator.)

Should I go pink?

Every October, all manner of companies and organizations put out pink products and advertisements in honor of breast cancer survivors and those doing research on the disease. But how much good do these campaigns really do?

Getting to the truth can be tricky. Gayle Sulik, author of Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health, notes that a lot of these companies don’t actually donate anything to breast cancer charities. Instead, they “raise awareness”—a pretty vague notion. And some of these companies, Sulik writes, simultaneously produce products that can cause breast cancer even while they paint the walls pink.

“It doesn’t make much sense to buy pink ribbon products,” says Samantha King, author of Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy. “By doing so, you’re simply subsidizing corporate marketing campaigns. If you want to give, give directly to the breast cancer organization.”

And as an added bonus, when you give directly, you get the tax deduction—not the corporation.

What else should I look out for when donating?

  • Use websites like Charity Watch or Charity Navigator to check on the credibility of the organization you want to donate to. These sites can also tell you exactly where your money will go.
  • If you want to dig deeper, take a look at the nonprofit’s financial reports to get a feel for their health and habits.
  • Know that while donating money directly to an organization may not be sexy, it’s often the best way to go if you really want to help. Cash donations allow the nonprofit to direct the funds in a way that fits with their strategic plans.
  • Read the labels of any pink-ribbon-adorned merchandise you buy. You should be able to tell exactly how much money from the sale will go to which specific organization. If you can’t, don’t buy it.

This season is a great time to give to breast cancer organizations supporting research, survivors, sufferers, and their families. Just make sure you give some thought to where and how you want to donate!