10 Things to Think About Before You Give in the Amazing Raise 2014 (or anywhere else for that matter!)

UPDATE:  This was a really hard and painful post to write. I struggled with whether to write it or not, because I don’t have it all figured out. But, as I talked to some experienced nonprofit folks and community leaders, I felt compelled. And…I just know I/we need to think and pray more before we invest God’s money!

Amazing Raise season has arrived! In response to last year’s Raise, I wrote To Give…or Not to Give. Don’t get me wrong…I LOVE the energy around the Amazing Raise and have dear friends and organizations that I believe in and give to. In fact, giving is good for us. According to the book The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose by Smith and Davidson,

“More generous people are happier, suffer fewer illnesses and injuries, live with a greater sense of purpose, and experience less depression.”  .

So, we benefit when we give. However, who we give to matters to others. So I implore you to think about…pray about…WHO you give to. I live in and love a community that receives a lot of ministry and non-profit focus. I’ve seen some good, some bad and some really ugly over the years. So, allow me to talk from the street level after living in and loving the inner city for the last 9 years. It behooves us all to do our homework. Please.

A group of us have bounced some ideas around…and came up with this list of 10 things to think about before giving or volunteering.

1st – PRAY a listening prayer. Ask God to speak to you, to show you where to invest HIS money. We are called to be good stewards of the money God has given us. He’s counting on us to make WISE decisions regarding who we support with our time, talent, resources and finances.

2nd – Don’t believe everything you read or hear! Do your research! 

  • Talk to the community.  It’s important to get first hand information from the folks in the community – not just the ones being ‘supported’ by the organization.
  • Talk to people who used to work for the organization. Why did they leave? What did they see on the inside?
  • Review the 990s. Do the numbers add up? Is there a return on the investment? 
  • Ask questions. 
  • Look for ways that folks may be privately benefiting from the work being done. They may not get salaries, but there are other ways to benefit… using ‘the ends justify the means’.
  • Talk with current and past partners. What does that partnership look like? Why are they not in partnership anymore?
  • Talk with past recipients of their services, if you can. Where is the ‘poster child’ from a year or 2 ago that is no longer around?

3rd – Track what’s happening. Is the nonprofit sustainable? or do they jump from one project to another? to one part of town to another? Are they committed to their mission…or are the suffering from mission bleed…and find themselves all over the place..shifting with the tide? Pulling out before the job has done or pulling out too soon…pulling out just as trust is being built? Signs of going from one project to another and never fully completing what they started is a sign they are either chasing money and/or not building a sustainability plan after receiving a one-time grant. In addition, they just might be unfocused, suffer from ADD or just good ole impatience. This work takes time. CCDA folks say that you need to commit to at least 15 years in order to make a true difference. That’s a really, really long time. Sometimes it takes 5+ years just to gain trust.

4th – Stories are really compelling tool. But, those stories might NOT be all true…sins of omission and sins of commission. (See #1) Are they taking creative liberties to sell the ‘story”? Ask for data to back up those stories. Think about the pictures of poor starving children and abused dogs, etc. which are meant to tug on your heart strings. And we JUMP to give. We see the ‘poor inner-city child with too small clothes’ who needs a bed, a home, clothing, etc. We want to fix it…now.

5th – Are the community and the residents treated with respect and dignity? Are they being done TO? BAD! Are they being done WITH? GOOD!  Are the residents/people/children being exploited just to raise funds? After speaking to one longtime community leader yesterday – this exploitation is considered particularly heinous. The ‘friend’ can’t say ‘No’ to having their picture taken because they are too beholden to the organization, and their livelihood, housing, and resources might depend on it. The community leader said that some may not know their pictures are being used to market the organizations, and they are being told what to say and how to say it…often written for them. YIKES!

6th – Organizations that are 5+ years or older should be transferring some organizational leadership to the indigenous people or the people they serve, especially if they focus on leadership development. Are they employing people from the community by now?  Are community members consulted with, listened to, and heard before something is implemented? 

7th – Look for meaningful results for sustainable change. Are there wrap-around services to go with the transitional housing for the homeless? How are they partnering with the larger movement within the city/county? Are there strong partnerships with other non-profits or churches in the geographical area or same focus (homelessness, sex-traffiking, education/tutoring, etc.)?

8th – If it is a faith-based organization, does it align with your theology? If not, then is it close enough for you?

9th – Before you give significantly or promote… volunteer with them for a length of time. Get to know the organization from the inside. Ask the hard questions from the inside. Observe. Listen. 

10th – Asks yourself…Is the work for the common good of the community? Is there harm being done? This is a hard one. Hard to get to the root of it. Because it may look good and feel good, but after asking yourselves all these questions, you may learn that it is in fact doing more harm then good. Some ‘good’ work is actually a drain on the community, because work is done in a silo, and the whole community…or impacts on the whole community, are not considered. Partnering with the other nonprofits, the city, the community, etc. is a necessity. 

Remember…It’s not about making us – the giver – feel good because we gave, although that’s an addictive feeling. It’s about implementing sustainable transformation, not enabling. Read about the differences between Mercy, Betterment and Development work in last year’s post >>> To Give…or Not to Give.

I know I missed some. I am still learning. What do YOU use to determine where to give and how to give and serve?

If you want to discuss more about any of these or others, happy to chat about it. Just contact us!