Organized non-profits provide reach, leverage and consistency that can't be matched by the millenia-old model of individuals helping those they encounter in the community. It's one of the extraordinary success stories of the industrial age that they've been able to have such a worldwide impact with relatively few resources. As our choices continue to increase (yes, there's now a long tail of philanthropy), it gets ever more important that we make conscious choices about what to support and how.
Here are a few questions with no right answers, questions that might help you think about where you want to allocate your charitable support…
Are you more drawn to emergencies that need your help right now, or to organizations that work toward long-term solutions to avoid the emergencies of the future?
Would you prefer to support a proven, scaled, substantial organization, or does the smaller, less well-known organization appeal to you?
How much personal impact and leverage do you seek?
Are you a browser, jumping from issue to issue, or are you more excited about a long arc of a relationship?
Is this donation anonymous? If it's not, who will you choose to tell? Does their reaction matter?
How much of your donation activity is the result of opportunities and outreach from the organization, and how much from unprompted giving? (Hint: organizations do a lot of outreach because it works on their donors, not because it's fun. You will get more of what you respond to.)
What story do you tell yourself about you and your giving?
Are you focused on published numbers of organizational efficiency (how much goes into fundraising and admin)? Or does it make more sense to focus on the organization's impact as it goes about its mission? How will you decide to measure that impact, or does it not matter to you?
[Worth a second to note that every question I just asked could be asked about just about any marketed product you buy on a regular basis, whether it's coffee, cars or a consulting firm.]
There are no perfect charities, just as there are no perfect cars. But the imperfection of cars doesn't keep us from buying one–we pick the model (and the story that goes with it) that best serves our needs.
What an extraordinary opportunity to support something that matters to you.