It's Only Money: How to keep giving during the downturn

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Not only are fewer people able to donate money right now, but more need donations.

Just like the profits at major companies, individuals' incomes and savings have taken a beating - and nonprofits and foundations are feeling the pinch double-time.

So even if your $100 doesn't measure up to others' $100,000 donations, groups have their hands outstretched. As organizations reach out to a younger audience, they're adapting to the idea of trying to get smaller donations from more people.

In fact, many national nonprofits have systems set up to send out alerts and receive small donations via text message.

And we should expect more of an online presence from agencies as they get into social media, said Terry Schavone, vice president for donor services and development at the Columbus Foundation, a community-based philanthropic adviser.

If you're asked or able to give, what should you think about first? Scrutinize your choices this year just as you should in good times, Schavone said.

"You give from the head as well as the heart," he said. "Your heart is like, 'Hey, I love animals, and I want to give to the humane society.' What if there are three humane societies?"

Here's his advice for deciding all this and more.

Take a look at your budget.

Decide how much you'll be able to donate this year (consider doing this now for 2010) and what charities or causes you want to support. Then rank them and portion your donations out. You may want to keep some of that money aside for crisis-type emergencies that will inevitably come up.

Take a targeted approach.

Limiting your money to one particular charity can make a much bigger dent. Or join up with others interested in a certain cause, called a "giving circle," and motivate each other together.

Scrutinize your choices.

Make sure whatever money you're giving, no matter how little, is going to go a long way. Take a look at the agency's website as well as information through PowerPhilanthropy - the Columbus Foundation's online database of local nonprofits - and, which aggregates national nonprofit data. Consider where money comes from, what it's spent on and how much the highest-paid employees make.

Watch out for those nasty fees.

Read the fine print to see if a credit-card company will subtract some percentage of your online donation, and decide if you'd rather write a check.

Get an instant increase.

Some companies offer matching contribution programs for chosen charities. Check with your office's HR department to find out if this is available.

Spend your time.

If you don't have any money to spare, your physical assistance is appreciated. And it doesn't have to just be volunteering at a food bank - if you're in PR, say, a small agency might get a huge gain from a few hours of your help.