Americans gave a record $410 billion to charitable causes in 2018, and more than 70 percent of that came from individuals — not corporations or foundations — according to Giving USA.
Bottom line: Nonprofits rely on people to put time, money and material donations to work in the best ways possible. Jan Masaoka, CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits, offers insight about what’s best to give — money, stuff or time.
Q: We’ve heard donating money for disaster relief is a great way to help. Can you explain why money is the best gift to give during these types of situations?
A: Disasters are so time-sensitive, and one of the problems with giving stuff is that it takes a long time to process. When you’re in a time-sensitive situation, you don’t have time to look through three truckloads to find the blankets. Money is also best with overseas charities, because it’s so expensive to transport goods.
Q: If I make a donation overseas, is there a way to know it’s reaching people who need it?
A: We have such global connections now. Why not make use of them? Any refugee group in your city probably has a community center or church — try reaching out to ask who is actually helping them. Or try using your Facebook page. Recently I put something on mine, asking if anyone could tell me about grassroots organizations in Africa they felt good about. One friend had a niece working with a nonprofit group there. I was happy to support them, and it also made me appreciate my friend more.
Q: What do nonprofits wish we knew about giving stuff?
A: If they’re not asking for it, they probably don’t need it. Check online to see if what you want to give is on an organization’s wish list, or call and ask.
Q: I love being able to give time, when I have it. What types of nonprofits need my time?
A: Just as with a paid job, increased levels of responsibility in a volunteer position come with an increased level of commitment. For small commitments, soup kitchens continue to be good opportunities where you can just opt in for a day and help out. Another good opportunity — and one you can do with your children — is environmental cleanup days.
Q: What can I learn from others about giving that truly hits the mark?
A: Awhile back, I read about a group that collected Christmas toys. They noticed that when they showed up at houses to give out the toys, the dads always left because they were embarrassed. After that, they decided to keep the toys at a church instead, and parents could pick them out and give them to their own children.
It was a great story because it shows how easy it is to think about ourselves and feel good rather than thinking about the people we’re helping. I think that’s worth remembering.