Monday, December 17, 2007

As you empty your closets and basement to donate household items to charity during the holidays, keep in mind that charities need goods, not junk. That may sound harsh. Certainly the impulse to give is admirable, whether it’s money or “stuff” that’s being given. But I often hear people who work for nonprofits that accept non-cash donations say that donors frequently blur the lines between goods and junk. Maybe it’s because things seem more valuable to us simply because they’ve been part of our lives. Or maybe we think we’ll just let the charity decide — if someone can use it, great; if not, they can pitch it. The trouble is that charities often spend precious resources in trash removal of unusable donated items — money that would otherwise be spent on programs and services. Another important reason to objectively assess the utility of used possessions: new tax law requires donated goods to be in good, usable condition in order to claim a tax deduction. So, be generous, judicious, and law-abiding! Thank you for using our information at to make smartgiving choices. The hard working staff at the Charities Review Council wishes you a generous, safe and happy holiday.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Do your homework before you give

Charitable giving is as American as apple pie and foreign imports. The huge majority of American households annually gives something of value to charities, and at an ever-increasing rate. Never mind the surveys showing continued reduced trust in charities since 9/ 11.

An inquiring mind might question whether it matters that people trust the charitable sector—they continue to give. But our recent survey of Minnesotans confirms that there is a strong correlation between trust and giving: 83 percent said their giving is indeed influenced by their general trust in the sector. Just think how philanthropic this country would be if trust levels were high.

They can be. Most nonprofits work hard to be accountable to the public but suffer from the high profile abuses that everyone reads about. That’s why it’s so important to do your homework before you give. You may have some suspicions about the sector as a whole, but if you take advantage of smart giving resources, you can assure yourself that specific nonprofits are trustworthy.

One of the best ways is to see whether they voluntarily participate in outside reviews, and whether they meet accepted standards.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Nonprofit Work Worth Less?

When I presented the findings of our groundbreaking public trust and charitable giving study at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits annual conference in early October, the audience of nonprofit workers was naturally very interested in Minnesotans’ perceptions of charities. One question, in particular, hit them where they live—literally.

We asked Minnesotans which of these statements they most agreed with about how charity employees should be paid:

  • Their pay should be comparable to for-profit employees’ pay.
  • Their pay should be less than that of their for-profit counterparts, but enough to make a living.
  • Charity employees should be drawn to their work out of commitment and paid no more than a stipend.
  • While 42 percent of Minnesotans agreed with the first option, 48 percent think charity employees should get paid less than their for-profit counterparts.
  • And fourteen percent of Minnesotans agreed with the last option. In other words, one in seven think charity employees should make a living by working more than one job and piecing together stipends.

Let’s think that through. Arguments I’ve heard for lower pay for charity employees include that “charity work” is less sophisticated or doesn’t contribute to the nation’s economic engine in the same way that for-profit commerce does. But I would counter that nonprofit organizations—just like for-profit companies—have worked hard to be competitive, incorporating modern management theory and professionalizing their work. And the recent Minnesota Nonprofit Economy Report shows that the nonprofit sector employs 10 percent of the state’s workforce.

These are not simply do-gooders with extra time on their hands, but well-educated, talented professionals who devote their lives to tackling our communities’ most pressing issues. Do we really expect them to pour their best efforts into their vital work while not paying them comparably to their for-profit counterparts? Do we expect them to give us prime rib while we pay them for hamburger?

The Economy report stated that nonprofit employees earn, on average, six percent less than their for-profit counterparts, and three percent less than government workers. What does it say about what is important to our society when the people who work to improve the lives of others are paid the least?

Or isn’t it that simple? I’d be interested in your thoughts about this issue.