Here are a few ideas for making the most of your holiday donations

donation form mockup

By Christine Schudde

About this every year we get questions from people about making donations to local charities for the holidays. But this year we thought we'd turn the question around a bit and hear from someone whose org is typically on the receiving end, and get some thoughts on ways to make the most of our holiday donations.

So we're very happy to welcome Christine Schudde, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity Capital District.

Many of us will look for a meaningful way to give back this holiday season. And there's a lot to consider when making a charitable donation -- which charity, how to donate, the best way to way help.

Here are a few ways to can make sure your holiday gift has the greatest impact.

Give from the heart, and focus

Find a cause or causes that are meaningful to you and organizations that are doing good work to further that cause. Once you do, a great strategy is to select just one or two causes that you care about and focus your giving there in order to have a deeper impact.

Though nonprofits gratefully receive gifts of all sizes, you may find that a gift of $100 to one or two organizations has a greater impact than a gift of $10 to many different organizations.

Give with trust and respect

Don't let warnings about high "overhead" and greedy nonprofit CEOs scare you away from charitable giving. As a paid staff member of a nonprofit organization, I realize this might sound self-serving, but hear me out.

"Overhead" is necessary for nonprofits to do the important and life-giving work they do. It pays for things like office space, technology, marketing, insurance, and dedicated staff members. The top three charity watchdogs agree that "overhead" is not an effective way to judge an organization.

"Overhead" is necessary for nonprofits to do the important and life-giving work they do. It pays for things like office space, technology, marketing, insurance, and dedicated staff members. The top three charity watchdogs agree that "overhead" is not an effective way to judge an organization.

Rather, take some time to learn about the organization's work and the positive results that they have had in their field. Visit the organization's website or request their most recent annual report, which will often include highlights and stories about their work along with financial statements. And Guidestar is a helpful resource for understanding nonprofit performance and financial health.

Trust your chosen nonprofit to spend your money in the most appropriate way to achieve the greatest impact. That might mean hiring a fundraiser to exponentially grow the organization or it might mean upgrading computers so staff can do their jobs quicker and more efficiently. Many organizations are addressing complex and pervasive issues like poverty, racism, or environmental destruction; issues for which there are no "quick fixes."

Additionally, nonprofit organizations have the same management, financial, and legal requirements as other businesses but generally have fewer resources. Help them help your cause.

Consider giving unrestricted donations

Sometimes you might want to designate your gift to be used for a certain program, and that's excellent. Other times, you may want your gift to go wherever it's most needed.

Nonprofits call that second type of donation "unrestricted." And they are grateful for the discretion to be able to use funds where they see the most urgent or important need.

Give money instead of things (usually)

There are notable exceptions to this guideline, but generally your gift of money will go further than a gift of things.

Your best strategy is to ask the nonprofit directly: "What do you need?"

Consider that an organization may have bulk purchasing power or special agreements with vendors. That allows your gift of $100 cash to stretch much further than it would if you went to the store and purchased $100 worth of things.

Your best strategy is to ask the nonprofit directly: "What do you need?"

Consider giving other times of the year

Nonprofit organizations are grateful for the spike in generosity during the holiday season, but you might have an even greater impact when you donate regularly throughout the year. Many organizations can help you set up automatic monthly gifts or you can do so through your banking account.

Give your time

A lot of organizations -- like Habitat for Humanity -- rely on volunteers to advance their mission. In most cases, the best way to volunteer is by asking the organization: "What do you need?"

It's worth remembering that not all organizations have an increased need for volunteers during the holiday season, so consider asking them about the most helpful time to volunteer.

Some organizations may welcome one-time volunteers, some may need a regular commitment, and others may be in search of volunteers with specific skills. It's worth remembering that not all organizations have an increased need for volunteers during the holiday season, so consider asking them about the most helpful time to volunteer.

If there aren't volunteer opportunities that fit your schedule or skill set, a thoughtful holiday card and donation are a great alternative.
____

Nonprofit professionals are regular people, just like you, who are passionate about their cause and working hard to achieve their organization's mission. It's a busy time of year for many nonprofits, so a little patience and understanding can go a long way in truly supporting the work of a nonprofit.

Thank you for your support and partnership!

Christine Schudde is the executive director at Habitat for Humanity Capital District. She lives in Albany with her family.

Comments

This is great! I'd love it if there was also a list of local charities doing holiday fundraisers or gift drives.

If you want to Give Local, consider donating to this lovely little independent non-profit which is running this camp as a girls camp, events rental, and campsite rental after the Girl Scouts sold it off.

Camp Little Notch also raises funds for camperships and is dedicated to making summer camp a possibility for kids who could not ordinarily afford it.

The camp is beautiful, pristine, and located in Fort Ann, New York.

camplittlenotch.org

This is excellent - especially the points about overhead consists of necessary expenses and money can be more useful than things.

I used to work at a non-profit, and one of the most discouraging things I learned is that people so often donate junk - stained clothing, broken electronics, etc. that are just garbage. Please don't donate items like this - the non-profit doesn't doesn't have time to repair items and it just creates more work as these items end up needing to be disposed of.

Another local (501c3) non-profit I'd urge you to consider is RISSE, Albany's refugee and immigrant support services.

RISSE has programs for both kids and adults, including the only year-round ESL program in the area, job placement, home helpers, an after-school program, a summer camp, arts, and sports.

If you're interested in making a monetary donation, that's amazing, but RISSE also loves those who volunteer their time and their voices in government!

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