The world is complicated, there are so many causes to donate money to, and your spare time and / or money to donate are limited. The questions of how to give, to whom, and why, are getting an increasing attention due to the growing needs on the one hand, and a shrinking amount of donated money and time on the other hand.
Nevertheless, the issue of giving has not got enough thinking and discussion so far, in my opinion, although it is only reasonable to assume that ones will want to know what profit their money can generate. Even in terms of the not for profit sector, it is still true and plausible to expect high efficiency, effectiveness, and return on investment.
Therefore, I have developed a simple Four Questions Test in order to assist donors in decision making regarding donating their time or money.
Question # 1:
What does the organization do?
A clear answer is required here. Neither vision nor mission statement are needed here.
The very simple answer is what is done by the organization.
Want three clear examples? Here You Go.
Question # 2:
Is it the most important cause you can donate to?
The answer to this question is a bit tricky, and requires framing an opinion by asking yourself what is your definition of the best cause(s) to give to. The basic assumption is that you want to help as many as you can, which means you want to make the best out of your investment. Think about it and develop your view. You may find This Inspiring Book helpful. Although the author claims that poverty alleviation should be number one priority for everyone of us, I still find this book very helpful in shaping your mind in regard to finding the cause that close to your preferences of helping others.
Question # 3:
What are the organization’s overhead costs?
Not a fancy question to ask, but you deserve an answer. As a general rule, you may expect no more than 15% overhead costs. More than this percentage, or worse – no information in this regard raise a question mark. A big one. Bear in mind, your money is limited, and you want to generate the higher profit possible. Assuming that – it is your duty to do your research and find out if the overhead costs are within the range. (And a personal note, I do not believe in crazy fundraising costs either, whether they are conveniently calculated out of the overhead costs or not! 20% or more of fundraising costs seem unacceptable to me, because it basically says that you cut 20 cents out of each dollar you give. You can do better with you money for sure.)
Question # 4:
What is the Return on Investment?
This term has countless definitions, but only one bottom line – what is the percentage of the generated profit in the project? Clear answer is required here. How much your dollars worth within the project/organization?! The ratio between investment and its return is very easy to catch. You should ask and get this information from the organization/s you wish to support. Any ratio above 1:1.5 is considered good profit in my opinion, because it is basically reflects 150% profit, and this is a clear indicator of doing good with your money, and making it worth more. The same process you do with your for profit investments applies here as well. (And another personal note here… I do not buy excuses in this issue. Every organization has the duty to measure, evaluate, and research itself on an ongoing basis, and part of it, is getting to know the organization’s services/activities’ impact in terms of dollars.)
Now, take a pen and paper and answer the questions.
If you do not know the answers – research. Do it diligently, because you want the best profit out of your money.
If an organization you consider to support does not provide with the information – ask to get it.
If an organization does not have the information – reconsider your intentions. You will not know where the money goes, what is done, and what is your return, so better to think twice, and research better options within your fields of interest.
Ready to think?! Go ahead and do the best you can.
Some clarification notes (in response to many emails and comments I have received):
1. Every donor follow their heart. I am not trying to convince anyone to choose any cause which is not their focus of giving. Do what you think is right.
2. Overhead costs is not a synonym of salaries. It includes rent and other costs… and yes in many cases there are too high costs of fundraising. It seems unreasonable to me to spend only 60-50% of donors money on the mission (assuming this mission really happens). However, there are many cases such as a small organization, starting-up a new project, or increasing of fundraising effort in which higher costs are acceptable. I give you food for thoughts, and you do the math.
(….And by the way, let’s phrase it a bit differently please… assuming that it is impossible to have 15% overhead costs and only 30% or so is a relevant expectation, plus every organization that tells you they have less than 30% overhead simply “plays with the numbers”… just makes the problem worse!!! No one wants to show high overhead costs, right?! so if they say they have 40% fundraising costs (or overhead), you may derive the inevitable conclusion – they spend much more than this amount. So, where does donors money go?!)
3. Salaries – I am a big believer of decent salaries, and will never support anyone who thinks that the sector’s workers need to sacrifice themselves because they help others. BUT if you chose to help others do not find excuses why you deserve the largest car and a crazily high 6 figures salary. It is not fair for your donors, and it is not fair for your employees; and it is bad to our world to have people who think they are the only talented people to bless earth, and the world owe them back.
4. Reading the comments I have received proved me something I already new. I am a millennial. This is it (:
5. Cyber-bullying, even with a fake cover of legitimate discussion, is disgusting and very harmful. Think twice before you shoot someone just because you disagree with them. (By the way the impression about your style of talking to others does not do good to you either… even if my ESL is not perfect, I bet you understand perfectly everything I write. I am also kinda sure my first language level is far better than the first language of many educated and smart commenters).
6. Very nice examples of organizations that use donor’s money efficiently (and there are many more, Find them and support them):
7. A great article you may consider to read, and may change your way of thinking.
8. Do not forget why you are here – do good, do good, the your best to do good!