How to Find the Right Charity to Support on #GivingTuesday

Make a difference by supporting an effective, mission-driven nonprofit that aligns with your business goals.
Giving Tuesday gift
The holiday season is filled with indulgences. #GivingTuesday is a great chance for you and your customers to give back after a whirlwind shopping weekend. (Photo: one photo/Shutterstock)

From feasting on Thanksgiving to spending countless dollars on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, this time of year is filled with indulgences. But after a whirlwind weekend of consumption, many people begin to feel the need to give back.

Fortunately, Giving Tuesday gives everyone the chance to make a difference on the causes they care most about. Entrepreneurs can join others around the world by making donations or offering discounted or free services to nonprofits or nongovernmental organizations (NGO).

But with more than 2 million nonprofits in the U.S., how do you choose one that’s worth your support? Joanne Sonenshine, founder and CEO of Connective Impact, an organization that helps facilitate partnerships between nonprofits and businesses, shared her tips for choosing a charity to support on Giving Tuesday.

Set high-level goals

There are countless worthy charities vying for your support, but rather than partnering with one right away, you should do some high-level planning of your business’s corporate social responsibility goals, said Sonenshine.

Joanne Sonenshine

“You can find causes that align with your goals, and it becomes an extension of your business and the message you’re trying to send customers.” – Joanne Sonenshine, founder and CEO of Connective Impact (Photo: Joanne Sonenshine

“It’s important for a business to have several goals around corporate social responsibility and to make it part of the way you do business,” she said. “What do you want to achieve? Do you want to help alleviate poverty? Do you want to address environmental challenges?”

Choosing a few causes to focus on will help guide where you direct your charitable efforts and help determine which organizations you partner with on Giving Tuesday.

Look for missions that align with your business

Your Giving Tuesday generosity can come back to benefit your business, especially if you support a nonprofit that addresses challenges in your industry or community.

“Instead of just thinking philanthropically, there’s an opportunity to think about nonprofits that will help you do your business better, particularly in regions that are underserved by the social safety net,” said Sonenshine.

For example, people may struggle to get to work if they live in rural areas without reliable transportation. Supporting a nonprofit that works to solve that issue, perhaps through a bike share or transportation initiative, will not only benefit the community, but also your business, as customers and staff will have an easier time getting to you.

“You can find causes that align with your goals, and it becomes an extension of your business and the message you’re trying to send customers,” she said.

It’s also worth tapping into causes your staff thinks your business should support, said Sonenshine. Asking employees about the issues and charities they care about will increase engagement and help find an organization that closely aligns with your business’s mission and challenges, she said.

Related: 7 Ways Your Small Business Can Help With Disaster Relief

Do your homework

If you’re spending time and money to support a cause, you’ll want to make sure the nonprofit is as effective as possible. However, not all charities are created equal. Before you partner with one on Giving Tuesday, do some research on its efficacy and governance, said Sonenshine.

“You’ll want to question how the money is being spent. Is the nonprofit spending a lot on Christmas parties or is the money being used to deliver on the work?”

Online watchdogs will give you a third-party perspective on specific organizations. She recommended checking GuideStar, which provides nonprofits’ backgrounds, tax filing status, assets, programs and other statistics, along with Charity Navigator, which gives a detailed look at nonprofits’ accountability, transparency and financials.

“These watchdogs help you get a sense of how the money is being spent, which is important, but don’t get hung up on the fact that nonprofits have to pay salaries and expenses. A hundred percent of the funds can’t go directly to the cause, and that shouldn’t be seen as a negative,” said Sonenshine.

Effective nonprofits tend to spend about 12-15 percent of their budget on operations, she said, so “Anything over 20 percent is worth questioning.”

woman volunteering at animal shelter

When looking for the right charity to support, ask employees about the issues and charities they care about. This will increase engagement by your whole team. (Photo: Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko/Shutterstock)

Reach out to the organization

Many business owners choose to partner with grassroots organizations right in their communities. However, watchdogs may not have as much information on these smaller nonprofits, said Sonenshine.

“If the nonprofit does not have a Charity Navigator score, that’s ok. It doesn’t mean it’s not doing good work. Look at their board of directors, and determine how they’ve structured their governance. Don’t be shy about reaching out to learn more about their work,” she said.

Sonenshine recommended asking the following questions to charities you’re considering partnering with:

  • How do you measure results?
  • Can you share any reports on your results?
  • How is your leadership evaluated?
  • How often does your board meet?
  • How do you determine if the CEO or executive director is doing his or her job appropriately?
  • What are your plans for the future?

“Any data point that the NGO can share on the impact they’re having is really important. It’s hard to get data on some results, so they might not have a lot to share, but it’s worth asking,” she said.

Having a conversation directly with the organization will help determine if it’s the right one for your business to support on Giving Tuesday.

Related: Why #GivingTuesday is Small Business’s Time to Shine

How will your business give back?

Once you’ve chosen a nonprofit, determine what kind of support you want to provide. Donating a portion of sales on Giving Tuesday is common for many businesses, but there are other ways you can express your generosity, said Sonenshine.

“There’s a ton of need in terms of what a business can provide a nonprofit. They also need services, like accounting, design work, marketing and labor,” she said.

Business owners can choose to let their employees volunteer their expertise for a particular nonprofit during work hours on Giving Tuesday.

“That way, you can be seen as a partner with the nonprofit, and that’s good for your reputation,” she said.

Related: 8 Ways to Make an Impact through Charitable Giving

No matter how you choose to show your support, make sure you share it with your customers at your business and on social media (using the hashtag #GivingTuesday).

“Nowadays, customers want to see businesses spending money on good and doing the right thing. Use Giving Tuesday as a chance to build something out and grow it, so you can put it on marketing materials year-round.”

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