Choosing the Right Charity for Your Company!

for board members Feb 23, 2021

Gone are the days when companies gave to the same old reliable charities because “It’s the thing to do,” or “We’ve always supported this cause,” or “They have a great reputation.”

Today’s corporate donors are looking for results, but decision makers need to feel passion in their own hearts for the cause or the project.

I’ve given lots of advice on how to choose a charity with your head:

  • Read it’s 990 forms
  • Ask if the charity follows the Donor Bill of Rights and if it has a Code of Ethics
  • Make sure the charity is registered in your state if required to do so
  • Ask if it has a strategic plan
  • Check to see who is on the board.

I still argue that all of these things are important, but, as a decision maker for your company, you also need to choose with your heart.

Some of us naturally have a heart for certain organizations because we have a personal connection with either the organization or the cause.  Sometimes it is easy to identify with a disease-related organization if that disease claimed the life of a loved one. Or giving to your alma mater or local hospital because of the feeling of gratitude. But how do you find out if you have the passion for an organization that you might not have a close personal relationship with already—the kind of passion that might motivate you to serve on the board, to volunteer, to give an annual gifts, and eventually make this your charity of choice for the ultimate gift?

Test the charity. Test yourself.

When you read a letter from this organization does it “grab you by the throat” and more importantly, by the heartstrings? A letter is often the first contact you will have with your ultimate gift charity. But it will take more than words on a piece of paper to make you feel that passion.

Attend some events this charity runs. Do they tell a story at the event, or do they just invite you to play golf, buy a silent auction gift, attend an open house? If the charity is smart, they will tell a powerful emotional story. One classic example of an organization that did it all wrong:

A human service agency that served people with disabilities held an annual awards dinner, where they recognized donors, volunteers, and others. But did they have a person with a disability give a testimonial, tell a powerful story? No. And worse yet, the president of the organization wanted to recognize his board members so he asked them all to stand as he called out their name. After he mentioned the names of twenty-one board members, only four were in attendance and stood up to be recognized. Did this send a message that he had passionate caring board members? Absolutely not! In fact people commented about the fact that the board members, who should care more than the rest of the community about an organization, did not even bother to show up at this event. Hardly instilled passion in any of the attendees.

Talk to staff, to volunteers, to clients, to board members. What drives them to work with this organization? Do other companies and colleagues support the organization, if so, ask them why?

Visit the organization and see if the staff looks happy. Do they seem to have passion for their job?

An example of an organization that got this message through loud and clear is a free medical clinic, whose staff are mostly volunteers, except for a paid medical director, and a few other administrative staff. This clinic holds weekly tours for potential volunteers and donors. It is so apparent that this group has a real passion for what they do every day that almost everyone who tours cannot help but catch that passion.  The clinic’s case for support quotes several clients whose stories are so compelling it is hard for the reader not to feel passion.

Interact with clients whenever possible. They will tell the “rest of the story.”

So, think with both your mind and your heart about the charities you want to support. What is your passion? What brings tears to your eyes? What makes you laugh with joy? What makes you feel inspired? What makes you angry enough to fight an injustice?  As Azeem said to Robin Hood in the movie, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: “Is she worth dying for?” This is passion! Is this charity worth dying for?

Although no charity will likely ever ask you or your company to die for it, is it a charity that you would remember in your own will? Do you feel that much passion for it? If not, maybe you need to keep looking!

If you are on a board of a nonprofit, you will probably be asked to seek a contribution from your company as well as from yourself. To learn more about giving to charity, and choosing the right charity for board service, take my course, Be the Best Board Member You Can Be. Sign up here

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