NONPROFIT: The Power of Charitable Giving in the New Year

Column by Jesse Wolff


As the economy continues to sputter, it seems there's not an individual among us who remains unaffected. Among the hardest hit by the recession is the nonprofit sector. Many not-for-profit organizations depend on financial support from individual donors and corporations, as well as grants from foundations and government to carry out their missions.

The good news is charitable giving appears to be on an up-tick after a dramatic downturn in 2008 and 2009. Private giving increased by about 2 percent in 2010 in comparison to the previous year, according to a recent study by the National Center for Charitable Statistics, but these statistics don't tell the whole story.

According to the same study, in 2010, giving merely increased up to the levels we had in the year 2000, to about $290 billion. In other words, we have a lot of ground to make up.

Corporate giving is a key source of revenue for many charities. As we enter the New Year, we're presented with a new opportunity to do more. I realize the idea of giving to a charity at a time when budgets are tight and profit margins are probably shrinking may sound like a crazy notion, but trust me, the cost to your business doesn't have to big and the potential benefits are enormous.

Consider this: Many of us will use a service provided by a nonprofit organization at some point during our lifetime. We may find ourselves in need of a low-cost health clinic, or enjoying the great outdoors on protected open space land. Perhaps we'll take in a show at a local community theater or maybe we'll clean out the attic someday — cue the shameless plug — and bring our unwanted items to a local Goodwill. Regardless of when, how or why we use the resources of a nonprofit, they remain a valuable resource for us all.

There are a variety of ways your business or the business you work for can help support a nonprofit organization in 2012. I think you'll be surprised at how easy and inexpensive it can be.

Here are some ideas:

Establish payroll contributions through an organization like the United Way. This is a great way to empower your employees to give in the New Year. Giving a small sum over time doesn't feel quite as burdensome but can really add up. You can also consider matching employee contributions to charities.

Because the economy is weak, making a large financial donation might not be a doable for your business in 2012. Cash donations are not the only type of corporate support charities can use. Increasingly corporations and charities are benefiting from in-kind-donations — in other words, donated goods or services like use of a company facility or access to staff expertise.

Believe it or not, being philanthropic doesn't necessarily mean you have to give to an outside organization.

During these tough economic times more people than ever are finding themselves in difficult situations and perhaps some of those people are your own employees. Maybe their spouse lost a job, or a family member is dealing with an unexpected illness. One way to help is by creating an employee assistance fund. Allow your own staff to contribute to it to help out their fellow colleagues during an overwhelmingly difficult period. An employee assistance fund is a great way to show your employees you care and empowers colleagues to help out one another.

We all know how valuable the gift of hope is. During these difficult economic times, our responsibility is to look past our own financial challenges and still reach out. The reasons to give haven't changed but are even more relevant now. So I encourage you to find a local organization you care about and find a way to give — your community will be better for it for years to come.



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