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How to Grow Your Charity

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IMG: via Shutterstock

So you’ve got your own charity. You’ve garnered enough funds to operate for a year or so, have developed your values, purpose, and mission, and have an Advisory Board. What next? You may have all the basics laid out, but there’s still a lot of work to be done if you want to continue to survive and grow.

As soon as you have your board together, use them as a resource to find more donors. A great place to start is by looking for possible grants and applying for them. There is a surprising amount of funding available for philanthropic causes—you just need to find and utilize it.

A great way to become more visible is to consider partnering with another organization or even with the government if your charity addresses a significant social dilemma. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that charities are all self-sustaining—many of the most successful charities have significant partners that raise and donate large amounts of money for the cause.

You will also need to be as efficient with your money as possible. No more than 20% of what you bring in should go back to administration and operation of your charity. The rest should go toward furthering your mission.

Be patient. Growing your philanthropy can take time—and it’s a good thing, too; you’ll have to keep up with all that growth if you want to be sustainable. Steady growth is better than spontaneous combustion because it’s far easier to maintain and less likely to collapse suddenly. Steady and slow wins the race.

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How To Start a Charity

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Start-ups are not an uncommon thing to encounter in this day and age, for-profit and non-profit alike. More and more, people are discovering that they have a passion for something—and it’s not the corporate world. In a country where the “pursuit of happiness” is viewed as a right, why not take your passion and turn it into something great?

Unfortunately, running a charity is not so simple as just having a cause and getting donations. Starting one is even more work. But if you have something that inspires you to make change, and are willing to put in the work, it’s certainly possible.

Every charity needs to know its vision and mission. Too often, missions are too broad and immeasurable, and visions are undeveloped. Your mission should be your specific, measurable goals. The vision should be a far off inspiration to aspire to.

Next, you should name the organization either after the cause of in memory of a person who inspired it. Keep in mind that there are millions of non-profits in the US alone. Find a way to make your charity somehow different and appealing to donors.

Make a 5-year plan. Outline fundraising strategies, operational structure, budget, and apply to be a 501(c)(3)—a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. This process can be lengthy and may require the advice of professionals.

Today is all about technology. Create a website to share your cause. Get involved in social media and update regularly. This can be a big help when seeking donations to fund the start-up. It can also help you find others with experience and interest in non-profit operation. You’ll need to put together an (unpaid) advisory board to act as resources and help establish operations.

Once you have raised enough cash to operate for a year or more, you are ready to begin operation. Remember, you’re a start-up, so be frugal. Most of your spending should go toward your mission, with only a small amount going toward operation.

Finally, good luck! It may take some time for things to get going, but remember, “Good things come to those who wait.”

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ReThink Fabrics: Pioneer of Recycled Polyester (r-PET)

How many plastic bottles are in YOUR t-shirt? Mine is composed of about a dozen. Also, I’d venture to say that it’s probably more comfortable than yours. Lies, you say? Well, keep reading and prepare to be amazed.

ReThink Fabrics Photo
IMG: via ReThink Fabrics

ReThink Fabrics is a Seattle-based r-PET clothing brand that is educating the public on rethinking waste and clothing. Having made an appearance in New York Fashion Week, been featured in the eco-friendly Black Eyed Peas (Energy Never Dies) tour, and partnered with Hummel to produce a recycled apparel collection, ReThink is off to a forceful start. However, there is still a lot of work to be done.

So what is r-Pet? Polyethylene Terephthalate is all around us. We drink out of it, use it for food storage, and, in a more recent evolutionary step, wear it. Commonly referred to as “PET” or “PETE,” polyethelene terephthalate can be used to make the average plastic bottle, which accounts for a significant portion of the world’s waste. Fortunately PET is recyclable. Recycled PET is referred to as r-PET. In the context of textile applications, PET is typically referred to by its common name, polyester.

ReThink Fabrics Photo
IMG: via ReThink Fabrics

The few companies that produce eco-friendly clothing have traditionally geared promotional efforts toward wealthy buyers. However, ReThink Fabrics prides itself on its environmentally friendly, socially responsible business model for producing more affordable clothing. “Our goal has always been to have [r-PET polyester clothing] mainstreamed. It’s not Patagonia, where you have to pay $200 for a jacket. No, I want this to be the standard for all polyester.” said Rethink Fabrics CEO, Anne Sodemann, who believes that educating the public is a main component of promoting eco-friendly fashion.

Although the masses are still somewhat unaware of what r-PET is and the advantages to purchasing recycled polyester over traditional fabrics, Sodemann and her team at ReThink have made efforts to educate the general population as it builds a brand presence. “I definitely think that we have helped educate the public, not just about the possibility of [r-PET polyester], but I like to think that we have also changed or at least contributed to their ability to rethink waste, whether it’s plastic [or] paper. [We’ve encouraged companies to] try to design it so that it serves a purpose beyond the trash can,” said Sodemann. She was recently asked to speak about how manufacturers can design recyclable trash packaging at a conference as part of a panel for waste management.

ReThink Fabrics Photo
IMG: via ReThink Fabrics

While the eco-friendly advantages to purchasing recycled polyester clothing are obvious (and articulated clearly on the company’s website, these t-shirts also provide anti-microbial benefits and wicking. Considering that one of the fabric’s main components is plastic, the garments are also extremely soft. When asked if the brand would attempt to expand their product line into areas other than clothing, Sodemann said, “Our fabric developers have really done a tremendous job. It’s really about just having a few product offerings and just focusing on what you’re good at. That’s the business strategy and that will continue to be the business strategy. Sometimes less is more.”

When buying apparel on the company website, each product description states how many plastic bottles are used in the design and the percentage of recycled polyester is used in the clothing. Additionally, Rethink Fabrics provides metrics for companies to track their efforts when products are purchased. The measurements can be applied to environmental impact statements as carbon offset.  From its genesis until now, ReThink Fabrics has worked not only to produce and socially responsible and environmentally friendly product, but also to make the product benefit the customer beyond providing comfortable, sensible garments. Therefore, businesses and individuals can now indulge in responsible, affordable clothing purchases, track their impact, and benefit from the advantages of wearing comfortable, quality attire.

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Charity Navigator: Donate Effectively

Charity Navigator
IMG: via Charity Navigator

As Americans, we love to give. As  such, thousands and thousands of charities have cropped up, and they have become hard to sift through. Enter Charity Navigator, a non-profit organization that evaluates charities. Charity Navigator would like to help people give and help the charities receive. They find great charities that are working effectively, and they connect these charities with people who would like to give. Today, Charity Navigator has ranked more than 5,400 charities nationwide.

Charity Navigator rates charities based on two broad categories: Financial Health and Accountability & Transparency. These two categories reveal how efficiently charities will use your money, how committed they are to accountability, and how sustainable their visions are for the future.

Charity Navigator has compiled multiple “Top Ten Lists” for some of the top-rated charities, and they organize their rated charities by topic so that you can donate to causes that you really care about.

Want to donate to a great charity? Want to watch your money do real good? Find more tips for smart donating here.

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Philanthropy: Available at a Store Near You

For a long time, causes and capitalism ran on parallel yet separate tracks: philanthropists and entrepreneurs alike worked endlessly in order to gain attention and support from the public. Companies sought profit while charities sought aid. Today more consumers are seeking products, services, and retailers that use their influence and their means to support a good cause. Some  People want companies that give back to the community, and retailers have eagerly met this demand. Some companies host short-term campaigns in order to raise awareness and funds for a cause while others have established long-term, committed associations with philanthropies that they believe in. The companies and campaigns highlighted below illustrate how when a capitalist and a philanthropist collide, a new wealth of opportunities arise.

Target, one of the largest discounters in the U.S., is proud of their long history of philanthropy. Target has been donating 5% of their income to local communities since 1946. Their focus on charity has expanded since, and last year they launched an agenda called “Here for Good” that hosts programs surrounding education, the environment, safety & preparedness, and well-being. These programs, coupled with their social services, crisis relief, and their military and veteran support, Target has received accolades for their corporate social responsibility.

A brand-new glasses retailer, Warby Parker, had combined their cause with their product before the first pair of spectacles sold. For every pair of glasses that the company sells, they provide funding and/or glasses to a non-profit organization VisionSpring that trains men and women to sell glasses in developing countries. This model creates jobs while also providing glasses to a few of the almost one billion people worldwide in need of glasses. So far Warby Parker has distributed over 150,000 pairs.

Warby Parker’s model follows in the footsteps of the capitalism-cum-charity giant, TOMS. TOMS began in 2006 as a socially-conscious shoewear company that donates a pair of shoes to a child in need. TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie’s motivation for the company is simple: “If I started a charity, I’d have to go raise money every time I wanted to give them shoes. But if I started a business and made a shoe where the consumer liked it for what it was, then the consumer will be my natural provider of the shoes every year.”

TOMSBy September of 2010 TOMS had donated over 1 million pairs of shoes, and their popularity had exploded. Since its founding, the company has also put on an annual event called One Day Without Shoes that raises awareness for their cause, and they have established campus programs for passionate, involved students. TOMS has been praised as one of the most innovative retail companies of this decade, and it has been the exemplar of the for-profit-as-non-profit movement of the last decade.

These companies have created an easy link between consumers and charity; consumers are able to feel socially conscious and philanthropic while they get to buy the products and services they want. Meanwhile non-profit organizations get access to reliable funding sources and widespread exposure to their cause. The relationship benefits both parties, and most importantly, it benefits the people who need it most.

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Where Should You Volunteer?

Where Should I Volunteer?
IMG: via Shutterstock.

It’s a common problem.  You want to volunteer someplace, but don’t know where to get started.  How do you find a place to volunteer?  Are you just supposed to hit the internet and Google things like “soup kitchen,” or “build houses” in your area?  Are you supposed to look up charities you’ve vaguely heard of, things like “habitat for humanity,” or “local food bank”?  And if you do, how do you know that the charity you find is reputable and worthwhile?

Luckily there are groups out there who can take care of all of that for you.  These organizations will help rate charities for you so that you know where they are located and what to expect.   And they’re not any farther away than a click of the mouse .

One of these groups online is  VolunteerMatch.org. With nothing more than a desire to volunteer and a zipcode you can find volunteer organizations in your area that are reputable, organized, and actively looking for volunteers.  They’ve got millions of visitors and over 80,000 organizations on their site, which is more than enough to help you find someone you can help near you.

But if you’re looking for something a bit more than VolunteerMatch then Idealist.org might be the website for you.  It’s a board for volunteer opportunities, internships, or even jobs that are looking for people.  You can post your resume, explore options, and even apply online.

And that’s not it.  Both groups also keep blogs containing an extensive collection of news articles and write-ups of different organizations in their network.  All-in-all, they’re excellent resources for potential volunteers, and a great way to scratch that philanthropy itch.