Confessions of A Fundraiser: Where and To What Shall I Give?

by Robert I. Evans

It’s that time of the year for my wife and me, too. Time to decide about year-end charitable gifts … culled from the accumulated batch of seemingly endless mail appeals we have received in recent weeks and which I have stacked for review. We note that most of the mail represents organizations – Jewish and not – where we have at some time succumbed to positive decisions and made a donation. The organizations range from our common alma mater to our synagogue, the Jewish Federation and a plethora of other worthwhile causes.

So what do we do?

Like you and so many others, we have to make decisions about worthwhile organizations. We have a limited pool of dollars, even though I have calculated that our total giving to date for 2010 far exceeds what we gave last year. But with the year-end deadline upon us, we felt that we must review all requests and make a “thumbs-up or thumbs-down” decision on each. Also know that my wife and I disagree passionately about certain causes or organizations. And like the shoemaker’s son, I know so much about the internal workings of so many legitimate non-profits that my thinking is not necessarily in sync with that of others …  including my wife’s.

So we started with the organizations that we both felt we should support. Then created another pile that represented some causes/agencies that were near and dear to my wife while a third stack was the agencies important to me. The fourth stack represented organizations we had supported with small gifts prior to 2010 and which we had a lagging interest in, but which we may support if excess dollars remained. And then the big pile of rejections. This bothered us because we believe that these agencies probably have credibility and legitimacy, but unfortunately they just don’t resonate with us and therefore we did not choose to support them.

While we like to believe that we are making intelligent and strategic decisions, we know that our thinking is skewed … definitely in favor of Jewish organizations and one or two causes that our friends have asked us to support. Politics aside, we also looked at certain organizations advocating in various ways for Israel.

I know that countless other generous Americans are tackling the same decision-making process right now …  especially those who will ultimately make relatively small gifts. Last year, Americans truly responded to an improving economy and showed that donors will continue to support non-profits generously, even during challenging times. Giving USA, for example, indicated that total giving for all of 2009 was only down about 3.6% for the year, but at Thanksgiving in 2009, total projected giving was down more than 6%. The last weeks of the calendar year saw an almost unprecedented outpouring of generosity and in all likelihood, the same will happen in 2010.

So our dining room table has now been cleared, the stack of envelopes have been filled with checks, and are now ready to be mailed. Some of the causes include a special matching gift form because of the generosity of my wife’s employer, where each dollar will be matched. A few causes will receive gifts because of our donor advised fund, but the bulk of our giving will be in checks or online payments. Nothing via Facebook or Twitter (we’re old, or perhaps too traditional, for that type of giving, I guess) but we recognize those venues are the future for small gifts (primarily those under $125).

And tomorrow when I put the traditional envelopes in the mail, my wife and I will be satisfied that we have made some wise, yet difficult decisions to support projects that we deem as worthwhile.

The ones that we discarded ended up in the wastebasket for a number of reasons: one large organization that we have supported for more than 30 years angered us with a poor strategic decision and another agency’s financial reports raised our eyebrows because of some perceived reckless expenditures.

But one part of our conclusions was certainly satisfying: we believe that our total charitable giving will truly make this a better world for all human beings but especially those of us who are passionate about our Judaism and our Jewish heritage. We hope and pray that our children and their children will make similar decisions and will keep the non-profit world vibrant, responsive to all kinds of needs, and able to serve important causes that truly make an impact.

How have you and your family members tackled year-end giving? Share your thoughts with all of us so we can all be intelligent and strategic donors.

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director and Founder, of The EHL Consulting Group, of suburban Philadelphia, is a frequent contributor to EHL Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, and non-profit business practices. Become a fan of The EHL Consulting Group on Facebook.