By Liz DiMarco Weinmann
Giving Tuesday, which falls on Nov. 29, began in New York City in 2012, as a way to intensify awareness of nonprofits, as well as generate gifts and loyalty during the holidays. Today Giving Tuesday is a global movement that inspires hundreds of millions of donors.
While Giving Tuesday itself has a noble purpose, some nonprofits leverage it in ways that are more about self-promotion than providing significant societal benefit. Below are red flags to notice as you decide to participate in holiday solicitations underway in the Killington-Rutland region. Also included are budget-friendly ways to support our most trusted nonprofits (and their websites).
1) Before you give, learn all you can about an organization’s mission, the essential needs it addresses, and the qualifications of its leaders. An IRS designation of “nonprofit” is not an endorsement of an organization’s mission and vision, nor a certification of the staff’s qualifications. Ask experts you trust or see if others you know have had good or bad experiences with the charity.
As a nonprofit consultant as well as a careful donor, I look for the following information:
- Does its stated mission and vision serve an essential, fundamental need in the community?
- Does the organization have a thoughtful plan for meeting that need?
- What experience and expertise does the nonprofit’s leadership have in operations and financial management?
- Would the community be at a considerable disadvantage if the organization were to shut down?
- Is the organization transparent about its outcomes and measurable impact, or does it expend excessive effort on self-promotion and gimmicky events?
For information about how a nonprofit manages its finances, search for its “IRS Form 990.” A simple summary should be in the organization’s annual report. Vermont 2-1-1 has details on thousands of nonprofits, and many organizations post operating information on sites like Charity Navigator and Better Business Bureau’s Wise-Giving Alliance.
2) Avoid making emotional donations to organizations you don’t know well. Don’t fall for a hard-sell — especially from organizations that generate showy publicity that has little to do with an indispensable community need that you choose to support. Ask questions about who the beneficiaries will be, what programs your donation supports, and evidence of impact. Confirm whether your gift is a one-time donation or one with no explicit end-date.
3) Be certain the organization requesting funds is not scamming a well-known charity. Over the past few years, scammers have reworded names of bona fide charities like Wounded Warrior Project, American Heart Association, and American Cancer Society, siphoning funds. This happens by phone, email, and social media.
On a much brighter note, below are budget-friendly suggestions for contributing to the Killington-Rutland region’s nonprofits, followed by a partial list of organizations that conduct their mission and vision in a professional and ethical manner.
Develop a giving plan for this time of year. Determine donation amounts, or volunteer commitments; then work the plan.
Donating your experience and expertise could be the greatest gift of all. One of the most tenacious champions of the Rutland community is retired GMP executive Steve Costello, who started organizing a local blood drive – the Gift-of-Life Marathon (GOLM) – with former DJ Terry Jaye in 2003. After 20 years, Costello hasn’t wavered in his exuberant crusade and somehow manages to marshal phlebotomists, volunteers, partners, sponsors and collaborators of all ages to make GOLM a success.
Volunteer to serve on a nonprofit board. Many of nonprofits are short-staffed in fundraising, legal services, and marketing. Board membership is an excellent way for young professionals as well as retirees to contribute and leverage their network.
Provide restaurant gift cards to essential workers. Healthcare providers, teachers, the fire and police departments, as well as restaurant and hotel professionals, work tirelessly.
Leave snacks or gift cards for delivery people. Many of them work long shifts without being able to stop for refreshments.
Send cards, flowers, or blankets to nursing-homes. Many residents do not have immediate families able to care for or visit them. Consider buying poinsettias from Mount St. Joseph Academy parents, to support the school’s scholarship fund.
Declutter your closets and bookcases. Donate to: Community Cupboard of Rutland; the Killington Food Shelf; BROC; Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore; or Open Door Mission.
Contribute books to The Imagination Library. Children ages birth to 5 years in the Rutland area can get a free Imagination Library book monthly from birth through their fifth birthday.
Post on social media about your favorite nonprofits. Promote visibility for their work, especially their achievements over the past year.
Lastly, making it possible for a family to have a Christmas tree is one of the most poignant gifts of all. As they have done for many years, the Rotary Club of Rutland will be selling trees in Main Street Park again this season.
If you can provide resources of any kind to a trusted nonprofit, there’s no need to wait for Giving Tuesday, or any other holiday for that matter. Nonprofits whose mission, vision, and values clearly and consistently identify a crucial need, and that demonstrate they are delivering measurable positive impact to the communities they serve, are the ones that most deserve your support.
Following are several Killington-Rutland organizations that serve essential needs for food, shelter, health, safety, and education: facebook.com/GiftOfLifeVT; foodpantries.org/ci/vt-killington; rutlandcommunitycupboard.org/; rrmc.org; broc.org; housingrutland.org; NeighborWorks of Western Vermont (nwwvt.org); vermontvisitingnurses.org; dismasofvt.org; Rutland Mental Health (rmhsccn.org); New Story Center (nscvt.org); United Way of Rutland County (uwrutlandcounty.org); vermont211.org; Rutland Free Library (rutlandfree.org); msjvermont.org; projectvisionrutland.com; wonderfeetkidsmuseum.org; comealiveoutside.com; habitat.org/vt/rutland/hfh-rutland-county-vermont; openingdoormission.com; rutlandcityrotary.org; and vermontwomensfund.org. BBB Wise Giving (give.org); charitynavigator.org are two respected charity monitoring organizations.
Liz DiMarco Weinmann, MBA, is Principal and Owner of Liz DiMarco Weinmann Consulting, L3C, based in Rutland, serving charitable and educational institutions: lizdimarcoweinmann.com.