Monday, October 25, 2010

A Donor's Confession

Alright, I admit it. My wife and I go with our heart, not our head, when deciding which nonprofits to support with our donations.

There, I said it.

I know that, working here are the Charities Review Council, I should say that we rigorously look at each organization and from this research decide which ones to support. But the reality is different.

Like a couple of my colleagues, Amy and Jenna, wrote in their blogs, my wife and I start with a budget and figure out how much we can afford to give. But after this very rational process, our hearts lead the rest of the way. Frankly, we support the nonprofits we have a personal connection with. That personal connection started because the nonprofit's work resonated with us and, based on our personal experience with the nonprofit, we believed it was making a difference on the issues we care about.

Now, coincidentally, most of the nonprofits we support have gone through a review with the Charities Review Council, but not all. I think this fits, though, with how we as an organization look at the review process. While we offer information to donors about reviewed nonprofits, we also acknowledge that meeting all standards isn't the same as an endorsement. There are a number of great organizations doing fantastic work that may never choose to participate in a review or don't meet all standards.

What is important is that donors strive to make informed giving decisions. This can include (and I would argue probably should include) "hands-on" research where a donor actually sees the difference being made by a nonprofit because they spent time actually developing a relationship with the organization. What's interesting to me is that this concept is actually at the root of venture philanthropy organizations like Social Venture Partners (here's the link to Social Venture Partners Minnesota).

Maybe I'm just rationalizing the fact that I'm a softy when it comes to making giving decisions, but I do believe that informed donors should consider their relationship to a nonprofit and need to take the long-view in supporting organizations that connect to their values.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Do I need another pink awareness coffee cup?

I use a pink breast cancer awareness travel coffee cup daily. When I bought it years ago, it indicated that a portion of my purchase will benefit breast cancer awareness research. Supporting breast cancer research is important to me since two of my close friends are breast cancer survivors.

But that is not why I bought the coffee cup. I simply needed a coffee mug and this one advertised that it is leak-free (which is important to a self-admitted klutz who has spilled coffee numerous times on the way to work).

Hundreds of companies ramp up their pink ribbon products such as pink coffee cups during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month encouraging their customers to shop for the cause. Each advertised that a portion of my purchase will be donated to breast cancer research. This is commonly known as “cause-related marketing."

Common cause-related marketing activities include agreements by the company to donate a percentage of the purchase price for a product to charity, advertising and promotion of a common message, product licensing, endorsement, and product certification by a charity.

There is no question that these marketing campaigns have helped increased public awareness and raise millions of dollars. It has also provided nonprofits, corporations, consumers and employees with a sense of purpose that their decisions can make a difference.

I bought my coffee mug because of its leak-proof functionality. The fact that portion of my purchase will support breast cancer research was a nice bonus. Since it clearly disclosed how my purchase will support an organization I am familiar with and trust, I plunked down my cash and bought the coffee mug.

I saw a similar coffee mug at my favorite coffee shop this morning. But, I don’t need another coffee mug. Instead of buying another mug which I don’t need to support the cause, I am going to give to the charity directly instead.

How do you shop to support a cause? Do you support causes by buying products that support a cause or do you buy the product only if you need the item?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Giving & Family

Single and Giving
I work in the nonprofit sector so it could be a given that I like to give to charity. And, when I was single, like many, I tended to give to those charities with which I had a relationship. If I branched out, it was mostly because my brother asked any presents to be charitable donations. (A reminder, I work at the Charities Review Council, picking a charity with my informed giving lens is a given.)

Giving as a Couple
When I got married, giving as a couple seemed odd. So in our newly married way, my husband and I had a very brief conversation about how we would approach charitable giving together. He had a few favorite charities, I had a few. Yet, we liked the idea of picking an additional charity whose work we both valued. Our gifts to charity come from both of us but they don’t necessarily reflect our individual interests; they are mishmash of both of our interests.

Determining how much we give wasn’t driven by a specific/intentional budget like Helen or Jenna. Clearly, gift amounts are unique to each family. I wouldn’t want anyone to presume I’m prescribing a process. My husband and I are pretty independent individuals. We agreed that since each of us is aware of family financials, we could each individually decide how much to give to our chosen charities. (Like any of our expenditures, if we go above a certain amount, we simply let the other one know what we’re up to.) We appreciate the spontaneity that gives us.

Giving as a Family
From my kid’s first days, I pondered how to teach them about charitable giving. As they get older, there are a lot of resources out there to help us along the way including: Share Save Spend, Doing Good Together and our own Great Givers that is designed for teachers but gives great ideas for parents too.

For now, I just keep giving in the conversation and mention that it’s important to share our money and our time. We volunteer as a family in park and river clean-ups. And, a few times a year, the kids and I have a conversation about where they would like to give some of their money. They decide what they want to support.

As a family, we’re hoping our giving efforts grow, that, simply, we’re able to share more. Even the 6-year-old agrees.
A few months ago, he told me, "I wish I had some sense, you know, quarters, and stuff."

"Why?" I asked, ready for him to tell me about the new toy he wanted.

"Well, I wish I had some cents, then we could buy food for the people that are hungry," he responded.

We’ll keep working on that.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Bremer Give-to-the-Kids Challenge – A Smart Giving Opportunity!

by guest blogger, Dana Nelson, Executive Director of

Want to double your dollars and do more good? Now is your chance! Through Tuesday, October 5 donations on GiveMN to 50 youth-serving organizations in Greater MN will be doubled thanks to the Otto Bremer Foundation.

The Bremer Give-to-the-Kids Challenge is a call to Minnesotans to support nonprofits serving our youth in Greater Minnesota. The Otto Bremer Foundation is providing up to $300,000 in matching funds to double donations and incent giving to the 50 selected organizations. Each organization will receive a one-to-one match for the first $6,000 it generates through online donations made on during the campaign, September 28 through October 5, 2010. There are only two more days to DOUBLE your dollars!

Why donate to one of these organizations? Think about that one adult who really listened to you when you were growing up. Maybe it was a teacher, a neighbor or a coach. For young people who are homeless or facing domestic violence, having someone to talk to can literally be life saving. So whether you give to Anna Marie’s Alliance in St. Cloud who provides a safe space for women in children fleeing violence or to the Pillager Family Council who invests in programs that make a difference in the lives of Pillager youth, know that you are helping to make that positive interaction take place.

Why else should you give to one of these organizations? For most of these organizations, this is their first online giving campaign. They are small organizations stretching to do something new. Moving from “the way things have always been done” to “the way we need to do things to be relevant in the future.” They are working with their donors who are unsure about making a donation on a computer. And they are marketing to new donors who love the ease and convenience of giving online. They are changing donor behavior one click at a time. And the dollars are trickling in.

So whether you have a cabin in the Brainerd Lakes area, grew up in Alexandria or went to summer camp in International Falls, please invest in young people in a community that you care about. Click. Contribute. Change Your World. Take the Challenge today and forward to your friends! Post a comment on Facebook or follow #GiveMN on Twitter, please help spread the word about these great organizations.

And remember to look for the Charities Review Council's “Meets Standards” seal on an organization’s GiveMN page!

GiveMN is a collaborative venture to transform philanthropy in Minnesota by growing overall giving and moving more of it online. GiveMN is an independent 501(c) (3) supporting organization of the Minnesota Community Foundation. Many partners shaped GiveMN to build upon Minnesota’s strong tradition of philanthropy, including: ADC, Blandin Foundation, Briggs & Morgan, the Bush Foundation, Central Minnesota Community Foundation, Ecolab Foundation, F.R. Bigelow Foundation, General Mills, Inc., Greater Twin Cities United Way, HealthPartners, Initiative Foundation, The Minneapolis Foundation, Northland Foundation, Northwest Minnesota Foundation, The Saint Paul Foundation, Southern Initiative Foundation, Southwest Initiative Foundation, Target, West Central Initiative Foundation and Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. For more information, visit