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Giving tips

Learn to integrate high-impact giving into all of your donations, at year-end and year-round.

Tips for year-round impact

All donors have a “philanthropic portfolio” that includes gifts that aren't necessarily aimed at maximizing social impact. This includes impromptu donations to support our friends' interests, thank you gifts to our alma mater or hospital, or aid to support a church or temple where we belong. Increasingly, donors are also asking, “How can my money do more good?” As you think about the part of your portfolio aimed at creating more social impact, here's what to remember:

Focus on the goal

As the saying goes, “if you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there.” High impact philanthropy starts first by asking, “What is the philanthropic goal of this donation?” That goal could be feeding the hungry, teaching kids to read, reducing addiction and mental illness, preventing child deaths from malaria, or any number of other worthy causes. Personal experiences often lead donors to want to help a particular community or address a particular cause. It is fine to let the heart choose the goal. Once you are clear about the goal, your head can then help you find the organizations to reach it.

A little research goes a long way

Unlike a decade ago, donors no longer need to spend days doing their own due diligence or trying to interpret tax returns in the hope of identifying a nonprofit worthy of their gift. Organizations like the Center for High Impact Philanthropy now exist to do the legwork so that individual donors can get to impact faster and with more confidence. The high impact opportunities profiled in this guide—and many more on our website—offer specific options that our team has analyzed for program efficacy and cost-effectiveness. We’ve also provided a list of additional resources to help you better understand the causes you care about and identify nonprofits to support. Still can't find what you're looking for? You'll find a wealth of free information on our website.

Think bang for your buck

Not even the Gates Foundation has enough money to solve the problems it seeks to address. To do more good, every donor needs to ask, “How can my money go the farthest?” Comparing nonprofit organizations can help answer that question, but don't just look at their expenses. That's literally, only half the equation. Instead, compare what the organization spends overall, to what it achieves. For example, it can cost approximately $100 for a monthly bus pass allowing a former foster youth to get to a new job, $275 for a clean, safe delivery for a pregnant woman in Guatemala, and about $2,500 to set up an effective early childhood curriculum for a class of 20 to 25 children. Another way to think of bang-for-buck is to compare costs with societal benefits: For every $1 spent on a nurse visitation program, as a society we receive over $6 back from improved health, education, and employment outcomes. That's bang for buck thinking where the 'buck' is the money a nonprofit has to spend and the 'bang' is what it's able to achieve with that money.

By focusing on the goal, doing a little research, and thinking bang for buck, donors can make sure their annual giving reflects more than generosity and good intentions. It allows for year-round impact.

Tips for avoiding fraud

It's your right as a philanthropist to practice some due diligence (and even some healthy skepticism) before committing your funds to a particular organization. The nonprofits that see more funding aren't just doing impressive work. They're also transparent about how they're doing it. Just because someone asks you to support a worthy effort, doesn't mean you can't take some time to consider it—just like you would if someone was selling you an investment or a new product. Here are some things you can do to avoid charitable fraud:

A simple Google search

If a nonprofit, its staff, or board have been the subject of negative press or an official investigation, that is a clear red flag to proceed with caution before committing funds. n addition, nonprofits such as GuideStar, Charity Navigator, and BBB Wise Giving Alliance all provide free financial and programmatic information to help donors understand the work of specific nonprofits.

Remember the difference between a worthy cause and a worthy charity

There are many good and worthy causes, but that doesn’t mean that every charity addressing that cause is just as good. It’s a distinction that can be hard to remember when you feel strongly about a cause. It’s also why one fraudulent cancer charity successfully raised so much money: donors who had friends or family with cancer found it hard to say ‘no’. They may have avoided the fraudulent charity altogether if donors had instead asked their friends and family: “Which nonprofits have really helped you?”

Get involved directly with an organization

By volunteering your time or speaking with staff and/or the people who benefit directly from the organization, funders get a first-hand look at how a nonprofit translates donor funds and other resources into programs that benefit clients.

This article was excerpted from the Center for High Impact Philanthropy's “2017 High Impact Giving Guide,” sponsored in part by Fidelity Charitable's Trustees' Initiative. The guide features specific high-impact giving opportunities, handpicked by the center and analyzed for evidence of impact and cost-effectiveness, as well as more ways to improve the effectiveness of your giving.

The Center for High Impact Philanthropy is a multidisciplinary, nonprofit center housed at the University of Pennsylvania. The center provides actionable and evidence-based guidance for individuals who want to ensure that their philanthropy makes the greatest possible difference in the lives of others.

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