In America, no one is required to give to charity. Nowhere in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence or the Internal Revenue Code does it require citizens to donate their money to charity. Yet, the United States has an extraordinary tradition of charitable giving going back over 200 years.
Philanthropy—voluntary giving for the common good—is so important to America because it is voluntary. When someone makes a charitable contribution, they feel good not only because they are helping to improve society, but also because they want to give. Philanthropy is people helping people because it is the right thing to do, not because of some requirement. And charitable giving benefits everyone, because at some point in time, everyone has been affected by a charity and its services.
America is a land of choices, and people can commit their time or spend their money in countless ways. But for volunteers and donors, philanthropy is not just a consumer choice. It is a statement about themselves and what they want their society to look like. When Americans make the choice to give, our nation becomes better—our world becomes better. As a society, we become more united. We become a community.
The charitable sector provides us a critical path to connect with one another. Through giving and volunteering, we become closer. We find understanding in helping each other. By sharing our experiences and coming together, we promote tolerance and virtue.
While it’s easy to make a contribution and raise funds when the economy is good, the philanthropic community is most important when times are not so great. More than ever, it is critical that the community of philanthropy works as one—to encourage giving and volunteering, and to assure the public that charities are worthy of their support.
Perspective for Fundraisers and Charities
Fundraisers are stewards of the public trust and stewards of the public’s charitable contributions. They not only have a responsibility to their organization to raise money, but they also have an obligation to the public to ensure that the money contributed is used in an appropriate fashion. It is this dual responsibility that mandates the highest ethical conduct for practitioners of the fundraising profession. Here are some tips for fundraisers and charities who are trying to navigate these uncertain economic times.
- Yes, we can! As the leaders of development efforts around the world, fundraisers must ensure that they keep their cool and do not panic. But perhaps even more important is ensuring that others associated with the organization—staff, board members, volunteers and key supporters instrumental to your fundraising efforts—do the same. You can still raise money, you can still meet your mission and you can still identify new donors. But many people may still be a bit shocked about the economic situation and unsure about how to proceed. The fundraiser must lead by example through words and action.
- Be candid. Ensure your colleagues and volunteers maintain their perspective by being “realistically optimistic.” Nearly everyone is affected in some way by the current economic situation. Talk frankly, but optimistically, about what is happening to your organization and what lies ahead. Volunteers and staff need to know the challenges—and opportunities—that your organization faces, especially from a fundraising perspective. Ignorance is not bliss. Board members and senior staff especially need to know how your organization’s fundraising is faring so their expectations are not inflated. They also need to know the resources you need to be successful so they don’t make panic cuts and eliminate important programs.
- Stay positive. Your organization may well face an “emergency” or “crisis” during these difficult times, but what is more important is to show that you have a plan and are taking steps to address that emergency or crisis. Philanthropists will respond to community need, but they will be hesitant to invest if the message you are sending them is that the organization might not be around tomorrow.
- Focus on the long term. In tough times, for-profit companies accept short-term reduced growth, focus on their strengths and plan for longer-term overall growth. In a similar fashion, charities should take the long-term approach. Continue to market and conduct bequest and legacy programs, even if it’s likely you won’t get much benefit this year. Also important is stewarding previous donors who are not able to give now, but may be able to give in the future when the economy improves.
- You have control! Remember that you are not at the mercy of the economy and blind luck. The decisions made by charities have more influence on their future success than anything the economy might do. You have a significant amount of control over your charity’s fundraising fortunes. Good strategic and tactical decisions, made through due diligence and consultation with colleagues, volunteers and supporters, will most often result in positive numbers over the long term.
Wise Giving Tips
Donors can help ensure that their charitable gift will be used ethically and effectively by following some easy and common-sense tips
- Take your time in making giving decisions and resist high-pressure appeals. The faster the sales pitch, the more you should just say no. Legitimate charities don’t need money at the exact moment a solicitation is made. Ideally, donors should always ask for written information (especially during a telephone solicitation) about the charity before they give. The request will give donors more time to find out about the charity and resist the temptation to give on a whim.
- Don’t be fooled by charities with worthy-sounding names, or names that might sound similar to other organizations. Some questionable charities create names that are intended to sound like other well-known charities and mislead potential donors.
- Know the charity you are considering supporting. Ask the charity to send you a brochure or other published information. If the response is slow, reluctant or not forthcoming at all, consider a different charity.
- Before making a gift, offer to volunteer your time to promote the goals of the charity and to learn more about the organization and how it is run. If the response is less than enthusiastic, or you don’t like what you find, consider looking elsewhere to donate your time and money.
- Ask a telemarketer if he or she is working for a percentage of the funds raised, is paid a set salary or fee or is a volunteer. If the telemarketer is taking a percentage of funds raised, hang up the phone. Percentage-based compensation is considered unethical.
- Use the Donor Bill of Rights, available for download at afpnet.org. This document was created by a group of philanthropic and fundraising organizations dedicated to the advancement of ethical and effective fundraising. Know your rights, and challenge the charities you support to uphold them. If they don’t, tell them you expect them to do so, or you’ll consider giving elsewhere.
- Develop a giving plan. Develop a giving plan of how much, when and to whom you will give. In addition, giving more to a few causes also tends to increase the overall value of contributions. Deciding on when to give is also important. More than a third of all charitable giving occurs in the last three months of the year. But giving during the rest of the year is critical too, as some charities often struggle for funds in spring and summer.
- Ensure that the fundraiser and the charity operate under a code of ethical standards. AFP members are required to abide by and sign annually the AFP Code of Ethical Principles and Standards. These standards or similar ones, can provide confidence that the charity and the fundraiser are legitimate and providing the highest level of ethical service to donors. iBi
Reprinted with permission from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.