Cheat Sheet

Charity and Philanthropy For Dummies

From Charity and Philanthropy For Dummies by Karl T. Muth, Michael T. S. Lindenmayer, John Kluge

If you’re interested in giving to charity but don’t know where to start, this Cheat Sheet is for you. Crammed with information on getting started with giving, different ways to give, and finding the right charity to give to, you’ll soon be clued up enough to make your own decisions and go about beginning your own philanthropic journey.

Create a Giving Plan before You Invest in a Charity

Few great things happen by accident. Most effective philanthropists – whether the amounts of time and money involved are large or small – have a plan. In order to create realistic goals, be sure your giving plan is:

  • Realistic. Think about how you’re going to do what you plan to do. If you’re going to help build a school, how long is that going to take? Who will be involved? What is the timeline for building similar schools? How long after the school is built will it be in use? Who will help plan, build and operate the school?

  • Affordable. It’s easy to say you’ll fix the world and figure out how to pay for it later, but this is not a good strategy. Take an honest look at your budget. The goal is not to impress others and not to feel as though you’re not doing enough. The goal is to feel good about what you’re doing, at whatever scale, at whatever budgetary level.

  • Filled with goals. The best way to measure your progress down the road is to establish goals now. Think of these as little milestones. They don’t have to all be impressive or world-changing. But they should be well-defined. To check if a goal is well-defined, ask yourself, “In the future, will I be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to whether I’ve done this yet?’

  • Cooperative. We can’t change the world alone, it takes a team. Embed in your giving plan your plans for working with, organising or exciting others. Figure out who in your circle will take part in executing your plan. It could be your friends, family or co-workers. It could be people in your local community. Planning for cooperation is a key part of a successful giving strategy.

Finding the Right Charity to Support

With all the worthwhile causes in the world, the range of choices can be overwhelming. What to do? Here are some ways you can sort through things that may help you narrow the search when you're considering giving money or time to a charity:

  • Think in terms of people, places, and things: Can you visualise the people, places and things that the cause affects? Are these the people near you (geographically, ethnically, linguistically, economically, culturally)? Are these the places you care about or that hold a special meaning in your life? Are these the things you want to see improved, protected, or researched?

  • Worry less and do more: There is nothing requiring you to jump in with both feet. Why not research an organisation you like and give them the minimum donation to receive their newsletter and join their email list? As you learn more about the organisation, you may feel motivated to give more. And, if you don’t, the amount invested will be small enough to walk away without regret.

  • Knock on doors: Is the charity nearby? Why not arrange a visit? Is there someone you know who works for the charity or works on their behalf? Meet for tea and discuss what excites that person and, if possible, get an honest appraisal of what aspects the charity could improve. Nothing is all roses, but best to spot the thorns early.

  • Trust your instincts: Don’t let charities tell you it’s ‘just the way it is.’ There are reasons for everything. There are reasons some charities spend more of their budgets on overhead than others. A charity that cannot answer these questions, or seems to avoid these questions, is not one you should be dealing with in the first place.

Understanding the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ of Talking to Charities

Deciding on which charity you’d like to support will of course create some questions, and you’ll want these questions answered. Most of the time, unless the charity has a long FAQ on its website (check for this before you ring!) you’ll need to give them a call. When you call, consider the following points in order to get what you want from your conversation:

  • Introduce yourself as a potential supporter.

  • Raise your concerns respectfully and in an organised way.

  • Reach out via e-mail if your question is technical or lengthy and will require a long reply.

  • Use language that is unambiguous, for example, ‘I’m confused about the 4% you spend on overhead, can you break that out into its constituent costs?’ rather than ‘You seem to be spending a lot on people and copying paper and stuff like that. Can you explain why?’

  • Maintain a positive upbeat tone.

  • Remember that the person on the other end of the telephone may be a volunteer who just signed up, who yesterday was like you are now. Show the person the respect and patience you would want to be shown.

  • Thank the person for taking the time to address your questions or concerns. There are undoubtedly other things that person could be doing for the charity and your call has contributed to the charity’s overhead expenses. Be cautious and thoughtful in your actions.

Try not to:

  • Criticise anyone on a personal level.

  • Conduct personal arguments or stoke philosophical disagreements.

  • Reveal anything about yourself or your identity that you aren’t comfortable with everyone knowing.

  • Use offensive language or tone.

  • Raise your voice or act rudely toward the person answering the telephone. It is very unlikely the person on the telephone set the policy you have questions about or managed the campaign you’re objecting to. Realise this person is an agent of the organisation and not a personification of it.

Spreading Your Enthusiasm for Charity and Philanthropy

Once you’ve made your financial gift to a charitable cause, decided to volunteer or become involved with an organisation in some other way, you’ll probably want to share your enthusiasm with others. Here are some tips for communicating with others about what you’ve done, are doing or plan to do charitably:

  • Create short, simple, basic sentences. Explain what you’re doing and why rather than reciting a long tale.

  • Use words like grow, flourish and advance to describe what the charity will be able to do with your additional support.

  • Avoid talking about distant goals that alienate the audience or hurt your credibility. Talk about things that are happening soon that seem tangible.

  • Keep the audience interested by explaining how they can help without always using yourself as an example.

  • Omit exaggerations or comments that might misrepresent your involvement.

  • Avoid metaphors, talk directly about the charity and what it’s doing. Don’t discuss the charity’s work in terms of ‘It’s like what this other charity does.’

  • Don’t use abbreviations that only someone in that area or familiar with that charity would know about. Spell things out, as not everyone knows what these abbreviations stand for and they can be intimidating to an audience that would otherwise be interested in the topic. For instance, if a charity works in the Democratic Republic of Congo, say that, as your audience may not know where ‘the DRC’ is located or what it is.

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