Kevin Hunt - The Bottom Line
The Bottom Line
4:28 AM EDT, July 30, 2013
A dedicated locavore knows, often by word of mouth, the best places to buy locally produced food. Community-minded people who also want to donate to a local charity, however, often turn to a national charity whose funding trickles down to area programs.
That's not the best use of your dollars, says Marsha Levinson Mason, the former director of the United Way's Nonprofit Resource center and currently chairwoman of Mary's Place board of directors.
"You have to beware of organizations that have a local, a state and a national [presence]," says Mason. "You have to think to yourself, 'Do I really want to give to something that big?'"
The bigger charities, says Mason, have bigger expenses and bigger salaries. By the time your dollar reaches your local community, it could be reduced to pennies.
The Bottom Line has recommended charity screening sources for donations following natural disasters like the Oklahoma tornado or tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombings or Sandy Hook Massacre. Even those, says Mason, cannot fully inform the consumer.
>> Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org), she says, only evaluates 6,000 of the largest charities out of more than 1.8 million in the United States.
>> Charity Watch (www.charitywatch.org) requires an annual membership for listed charities.
>> The Better Business Bureau, which maintains a Wise Giving Alliance (www.bbb.org/us/charity), requires a sliding scale ($1,000 minimum) to apply for its seal of approval.
Finding a local charity that best uses each donated dollar for a cause that matters to you requires research. For smaller donations, it could be a simple six-degrees connection.
"If I have a friend who's involved in a nonprofit and they ask for a donation, I will automatically write them a check," says Mason. "It won't be for $5,000. It could be for $25. If you know a person involved in a charity that you trust as a person of integrity, then of course."
If it's more than a $25 check, then these are some of the questions to ask a local charity.
>> How many people are on the board of directors? The best number, says Mason, is between eight and 14. "You want enough people to do the work but not so many that they're just sitting there," she says.
>> Do 100 percent of the board members donate to the charity? "If not," says Mason, "that's a question mark. These are the people that own the organization. If they're not supporting it. . . ."
>> How much money does the board itself raise? Mason says Mary's Place, a center for grieving children and families in Windsor, raises about $50,000 at its gala each year.
"That's huge," says Mason, "when the whole [annual] budget is $110,000."
>> What's the overall budget? "You want to know how many people are being served," says Mason, "and how many people are on staff."
>> What's the percent of individual, instead of corporate, donations? Look for 80 percent to 90 percent individual donations, says Mason.
"Corporations and foundations will buy you a computer or they'll pay for a pilot program the first time you're going to run it. But they don't want to pay your day-to-day expenses. Basically, 80 percent of a nonprofit's budget is usually for salaries. So the health of an organization, particularly a small one, is on the percentage of donations from individuals."
>> How many people get the charity's newsletter? "It's a good indication of who you have interfaced with over time," says Mason. "They're either donors or maybe recipients of services."
>> Is it direct service: Do people actually come to the charity for something?
"Do they go to a group?" says Mason. "Do they get therapy? Do they come into the food bank and get food? Do they provide food, clothing, shelter or medical care?"
If you don't have time for much research, Mason recommends you consider donating to groups that raise money, then distribute it.
>> Community Health Charities (newengland.healthcharities.org; 860-951-5933).
>> Greater Hartford Arts Council (www.letsgoarts.org; 860-525-8629).
>> United Way for social service and education organizations (www.ctunitedway.org/who/ctuways.asp, 860-571-7500).
Make sure the charity is registered with the state Department of Consumer Protection:
>> Visit http://www.elicense.ct.gov and click on "Lookup a License."
To contact the DCP's Public Charities Unit with questions or complaints about a charity:
>> Call 860-713-6170 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the state attorney general's office:
>> Call 860-808-5318 or email email@example.com.
"If someone is about to make a large donation to an organization located in Connecticut," says Mason, "they can call the office to make sure there are no complaints or lawsuits pending against the particular nonprofit."
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