Set a ‘charitable budget,’ pinpoint your passion and more tips on giving from local philanthropy expert Rachel Decker
By Danielle Alexander
Do you find yourself wanting to donate more to charity but not sure where to start? Rachel Decker is just the person to ask. As the founder and president of Detroit Philanthropy, Decker provides advisory services and fundraising counsel to Detroiters looking to make a difference in their community. We asked her for tips on how to be more strategic and intentional about your giving.
How should people go about choosing a cause to support?
The most important thing is to find something you’re passionate about and committed to. If you’re passionate about animals, for example, ask your veterinarian if they know of a nonprofit that does great work, or Google animal rescue agencies. It’s important to take the time to think about how you can and want to make an impact in the community, almost like a personal philanthropic vision. Whether your donation is considered sizable to you or not (everyone’s circumstance is different), you want to walk away feeling good about it!
Even within a certain cause, there are dozens of organizations to support. How do you narrow it down?
Since human connection is important and you can only learn so much from a website, I encourage folks to reach out and work with a human like the nonprofit’s CEO or even a board member. In non-COVID times, I’d partake in a site visit and see them in action, but don’t be afraid to give them a call and get your questions answered. They should be receptive [to] this; if not, that’s a red flag. Another tip: Think about which cause or nonprofit you’re most passionate about or have the strongest connection to and stick with that organization versus dispersing smaller amounts to a handful of them. Giving to a lot of organizations is not having as much of an impact as you could on one or two.
What should conversations with potential nonprofits or charities center around?
I preach a lot about outputs and outcomes. When an organization says that 1,000 kids went through their tutoring program, for example, that’s focused on the output; I’d want to know more about the outcome. I’d ask what percentage of students can read in that tutoring program; 95% would be a great outcome. To me, it’s about the quality vs. the quantity.
Any potential pitfalls to watch out for?
Since anyone can go through the steps of filing paperwork, check out charitynavigator.org or guidestar.org, which will let you know if it’s a legitimate nonprofit. Also, as to how much of your donation actually goes to the cause, organizations should be transparent with the financials. If they’re not willing to share that information, that’s another red flag.
For those who may be strapped for cash, especially this year, how can people still donate comfortably?
Set a charitable budget early in the year, much like a company would: Identify the amount you can give and figure out a way to be strategic with that. I also encourage joining a monthly giving program where you can spread out your contributions — most nonprofits offer these. Because $1,000 at once can seem like a lot, but divided by 12, it’s less than $100 a month.
What are some other ways to give besides donating money?
You can lend some sort of expertise, become a board member or just simply volunteer time (note that this may not be feasible during the pandemic). Also, instead of accepting presents for a birthday, some people will ask guests to donate to a cause or nonprofit on their behalf, which ends up usually being a substantial amount depending on the number of guests.
When’s the best time of the year to give?
A lot of people like to give around the holidays as they are in the “giving spirit.” However, charities are there all year-round — and gifts mean just as much in June as they do in December.
This interview has been edited for brevity and tone.