There’s no shortage of advice for how to determine whether a nonprofit is effective or efficient. It’s pretty easy at this point to click through sites like Guidestar or CharityNavigator to evaluate the nonprofit organization, or to download their latest 1099 to determine how much they pay their CEO.
Just know this: The path to fulfilled giving does not go through a tax form. Knowing that the nonprofit you donated to is efficient is great, but it won’t leave you with that feeling of fulfillment from knowing that you gave something for the sheer satisfaction of giving. As you get to know the charity better, you will start to see your own evidence of efficacy, even more than any data could reveal. So to get started on your path to fulfilled giving, the secret to selecting the charity that is closest to your heart isn’t to ask questions about the charity, rather, it’s to ask questions of yourself.
In the end, every volunteer and donor just wants to know one thing: Did I make a difference? The more specific you can get about the difference you want to make, the easier it will be to see the difference you made, and the more likely it is that you’ll be fulfilled.
To whittle down to the heart of the impact you want to have, ask yourself the following questions:
1. “What change I want to see in the world?”
Start big. Do you want the world to be more peaceful? Do you want to alleviate human suffering? Animal suffering? Do you want to give more people the opportunity to succeed? Start with the biggest wish for the world you can think of.
2. “Who do I want to see changed, where do I want the change to happen, and when?”
These questions can help you get more specific. If you want to alleviate human suffering, narrow it down to which humans. Where do they live? When do you want this change to happen in their lives? What’s your timeline? You might decide to donate once a month to help low-income children with disabilities in Austin get physical therapy to make them stronger (Any Baby Can). Or you might decide to make a gift in your will to support an orphanage in India to hep more orphan children be placed in a loving home (The Miracle Foundation). Narrowing down the impact you want to have will help you see the results.
3. “How much do I really want to give?”
It’s true that a $20 donation or a half-day of volunteering can make a big difference, but it’s up to you to decide how big an impact you want to have relative to how much you’re willing to give. Do you want to donate 5-10 percent of every paycheck? Want to be a mentor to a young person? These are big gives not to be taken lightly that can also have a significant impact on the world. Remember that if you can give one amount this month, you can probably give it again the next month. Becoming a recurring donor can make it easy to give big. It can also help you feel like you’re part of the solution.
4. “How important is it to me to be thanked?”
For most nonprofits, thanking and “stewarding” their donors is a lot of work, outside of the work they’re doing to execute on their missions. Not all nonprofits are good at it, mostly because they don’t have the resources to do it well. You have to decide how important that is to you. Donors who give in the millions definitely want to see their name on a building, but you might decide a quick thank-you email is enough. Not feeling like they were thanked is a big complaint I heard from donors, but some can see past it to focus on the impact they’re having. Remember, philanthropy – or the love of humanity – is not about what you get back.
5. “Do I have the stamina to stay with this nonprofit for the long haul?”
Evolving from a one-time, reactive donor to a long-term supporter is a sign of a mature giver. It’s like deciding to stick with your pro team even when they’re having a losing season. It’s when that nonprofit isn’t the cause du jour that it can tell its true allies from its reactive donors. Are you ready to choose your cause and see it all the way through? When you’re really working alongside that charity, you won’t need data to tell you whether it’s the best use of your money. You’ll see the difference yourself.
In the end, it’s important not to compare the size of your gift to the size of others’. There’s always going to be somebody who can make a bigger donation of volunteer more hours than you. It’s about the amount you give relative to the amount that feels comfortable or, even better, the amount that feels good.