Few things bring greater meaning to my life than using my time and resources to further the work of charitable organizations that align with my values. Monterey County is blessed with a large number of excellent nonprofit organizations. They do a wonderful job strengthening our communities and they are supported by a large and diverse group of generous donors. If you are already involved in charitable giving, more power to you. If you have not yet experienced the joy that comes from charitable giving, I invite you to take a closer look at it.
As with most things, carefully planning your charitable giving will make your experience more meaningful to you and more impactful in the community. Getting your financial advisor involved early in the process will help you avoid many of the frustrations and mistakes that hamper some charitable giving efforts. Not only can they help you determine how much charitable giving you can afford, but they can also help make sure your giving is done in the most tax-efficient way possible. In addition, your financial advisor can help you do the careful due diligence that should precede any charitable giving.
Begin your charitable giving by carefully thinking about what you want to accomplish. What you are passionate about? What are your greatest concerns? Where do you see the greatest need in your community? As you think through these questions, you might find it helpful to talk with others who are deeply involved with local non-profit organizations. The folks at the Community Foundation for Monterey County can be a great resource for you. They not only know the needs in the community, but they also know the organizations that are most effectively addressing those needs.
The quality of a non-profit is largely determined by the quality of its management, the depth of its resources, and the effectiveness with which it uses the dollars it receives. Every non-profit has a sacred duty to the donors who support it. If an organization does not keep faith with its donors, it is not the best recipient of your charitable gift. As you evaluate a particular non-profit, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this an organization I can believe in?
- Does this organization’s track record give me confidence that it will use my donated funds effectively?
- Can this organization make the kind of difference I want to make?
An important step in evaluating any organization is evaluating its management. You can get a sense of an organization’s management by looking at its track record. What has the organization accomplished? How does management measure success? How well do the organization’s programs align with its mission? Does management have a plan for the future that is realistic and workable? Does the plan reflect an understanding of key issues as you understand them? A management team that spends scarce resources on activities that are not effectively aligned with its core mission may not be the best steward of your charitable dollar.
No organization can succeed without adequate resources. When evaluating the depth of a non-profit’s resources, you need to keep in mind what it is trying to accomplish. Does the organization have the resources to continue operations for the foreseeable future? How does it raise funds? Do its fundraising goals seem realistic given its past performance?
You should also learn about how it handles any reserves it has accumulated. A well-run organization will have clearly articulated financial policies, including procedures for ensuring proper oversight of their invested funds and a sustainable spending policy. If an organization is too small to have these capabilities in-house, they will sometimes turn to larger nonprofits for help, such as the Community Foundation.
Finally, make sure that the organization makes effective use of the funds it receives. One simple indicator is the amount of money it spends on administrative costs versus addressing the issues you care about. Some organizational costs are necessary, but you need to feel comfortable that administrative costs are not getting in the way of your charitable intent.
There are excellent resources available to help you with your due diligence. In addition to the Community Foundation for Monterey County, you can get a lot of information from websites like www.CharityNavigator.org and www.Guidestar.org. These websites gather program and financial information for many charities around the country, including here in Monterey County.
Steven C. Merrell MBA, CFP®, AIF® is a Partner at Monterey Private Wealth, Inc., an independent wealth management firm in Monterey. He welcomes questions you may have concerning investments, taxes, retirement, or estate planning. Send your questions to: Steve Merrell, 2340 Garden Road Suite 202, Monterey, CA 93940 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.