Column: A great time to engage with a nonprofit in need

For the Valley News
Published: 11/12/2022 10:05:15 PM
Modified: 11/12/2022 10:05:13 PM

Navigating the maze of charities can be tricky. But when you find a match, your satisfaction and fulfillment will fly high.

Are you the curious type? Here’s a week to know about. It’s National Philanthropy Week. I call it Upper Valley Philanthropy Week.

Nov. 15 is designated as National Philanthropy Day this year, highlighting Nov. 13-19, locally, as Upper Valley Philanthropy Week to celebrate and recognize the impact of charitable work in our communities. What we do to help charitable causes makes the Upper Valley unique and special.

Many great organizations are doing extraordinary work locally to help people overcome life’s challenges. From securing housing to finding employment, delivering a next meal to ending gender-based violence, providing winter coats to delivering firewood. These are the most vital of resources provided in the most vital of times. The generosity of many creates ongoing support structures that pick up when a person or family can’t, or where the private sector doesn’t operate. This benefits each of us personally, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and economically.

To name several local charities: The Upper Valley Haven, WISE, Good Beginnings, Listen Community Services, AVA Gallery and Art Center, Vital Communities, Vermont Institute of Natural Science, Headrest, Northern Stage, Twin Pines Housing Trust, COVER Home Repair, The Good Neighbor Health Clinic and Red Logan Dental Clinic, Upper Valley Trails Alliance, Main Street Museum, Mascoma Health Center, Vermont Law and Graduate School, West Central Behavioral Health and, new on the scene, Junction Arts and Media (JAM, formerly CATV8).

This is a sampling and not an endorsement, assembled in no particular order. The array of nonprofits can be dizzying, so choose wisely before you support a cause this November. Choose an organization you’ve worked with in the past, one that’s helped a friend or neighbor, or that comes recommended by a family member or other trusted source.

How else to choose a charity? For starters, make sure at least 75% of its income is spent on programs that directly pursue the nonprofit’s mission. (90% is my rule of thumb.) Or look at the nonprofit’s website for its board of directors (or board of trustees) to see if there are people you know and trust. If you want to dig deeper, go to websites like GuideStar or Charity Navigator and plug in your favorite charity’s name.

Want to dig further? Take a look at the nonprofit’s annual report on its website to see what it’s done and what it plans to do. Review its financial statements on its IRS 990 form. The nonprofit ProPublica offers a Nonprofit Explorer website for this purpose. Are the most recent audited financial statements available? Is there enough cash on hand? The generally suggested minimum is 25% of the annual operating budget, and 50% is about the maximum. More than that and the nonprofit may not be deploying its cash effectively toward its mission.

This isn’t to suggest nonprofits shouldn’t make money, they should. Generating more than they spend can help increase wages for employees. These are the neighbors who should be able to afford to live close to where they work. They make our lives better, keeping us all happy and mentally well. They say charitable giving will make you feel good. Trust me, it will.

Beyond that, give it a try. Make a donation and gauge the response. Do you get thanked promptly? Will someone reach out to ask why you donated? Will you receive an email, text, letter, or phone call welcoming you as a donor? Will you be invited to an upcoming event? Get a newsletter? No matter the response, if you know the organization is doing good things locally, giving will make you feel good. And, it will help people in need who otherwise couldn’t afford what the charity provides. That’s what philanthropy is all about — helping others. My bias is to help others locally. That way, you’ll see those who benefit from your support while you help the Upper Valley thrive.

Above all, get actively involved in your nonprofit of choice. Volunteer. That alone will bring you satisfaction and fulfillment. Your charitable support will create an incoming tide, raising all nonprofit boats to elevate spirits and our overall quality of life. Small gifts or large, individually and collectively, our giving makes a difference.

Dave Celone lives in Sharon and works in Lebanon for West Central Behavioral Health as its director of development and community relations.

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