Giving Tuesday

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Today is a new holiday, Giving Tuesday.  It is a day set aside to encourage us to reflect on our fortunate circumstances and give to those who could use a hand.   I hope you will all consider giving something to a cause you support in this season.   Having worked for a nonprofit for nearly 7 years, serving on nonprofit and foundation boards I think I have some insight that may be helpful if you are unsure about your giving.

Give locally.   When you give locally more of your money is likely to stay on the ground locally.   I love to read and having been an at-risk elementary school mentor I know that many children struggle with reading.   I believe in this cause and there are many great national organizations that have a mission regarding children and reading.  Locally my community’s after-school programs include a reading program at the library.  With ever shrinking budgets, a gift the library will help support that program.   If I gave on a national level, it may only come back if some organization  is lucky enough to get a grant from that program.   Make it easy and find the local equivalent of the national charity calling at you and give there.

Consider setting up monthly giving.   People tend to be generous during the holidays and then forget a charity the rest of the year. Lots of charities have a monthly giving option on their website where they will debit your account or credit card monthly.   If they don’t and you do online banking many of the banks allow you to send checks monthly of an amount and date you pick.    Most of us feel a crimp out budget and December is not the flushest month to write a check for $100, however if you do monthly giving of $10 a month, you give $120 a year and likely did not feel an impact on your budget.

Consider the charities that have impacted you and those you love.  I have friends who have taken advantage of low cost/free women’s health care from organizations I had never heard of before.   I have been there when I was a student using similar organizations,  but had been fortunate enough to not had to use them recently.    My friends sharing their story reminded me of how lucky I was there when I needed them.

Consider making a donation in memory of someone.   I have two favorites on this list:

  • Memorial Rifle Squad at Fort Snelling National Cemetery  I come from a long list of people who have served our country since the American Revolution.  Most recently include my brother, my father, my father-in-law and  my grandfather.   Though this group has only been around since 1979, they have provided honor guard burial for those at the Ft. Snelling National Cemetery in Minnesota.   They are the only self-supporting organization of its kind.  All volunteer, raising funds to cover the costs uniforms, rifles and transportation.  They have never missed a funeral, an amazing accomplishment in Minnesota winters.  I first knew of them when my father-in-law was buried.   They now hold a place in my heart. I hope you take a moment to check out their site.   Though only one person in my family is buried at Ft. Snelling.    I give to them in hopes that every military person can have that last moment of honor when they are buried. 
  • Animal Shelters are where we got out pets.    RangerSir and I have always had pets.  They have all been shelter pets.    We make an “in honor of” donation each year of those who have gone before us.   If those shelters had not been there holding our cats and dogs for us we would not have made that connection.

In closing we all like to know we are making a difference when giving, so be smart about your giving.

  • A great name does not make a great nonprofit.    Look at their mission.   Look at the programs they provide.   Make sure you agree with it and would like to support their programs.
  • Nonprofit is not all volunteer, nor should it be.   They need to pay for postage, lights and generally someone to be there keeping it all together.   For years the Butte Emergency Food Bank had a retired couple as their executive director and they were able to volunteer, but the organization still had overhead or admin costs.   The building still had taxes and upkeep.   Trucks still broke down and things wore out and need to be replaced.    Look at what they are providing  not just the overhead costs.
  • Do your own research.   Thousands of people repeat urban and online legends, none of it being true.  If you are making a small donation your friend’s referral my be sufficient.   However if you are making a larger donation or doing monthly giving, (large is relative to each of us) do your research.  Visit their website, and check out their 990 (most have it on their website, but there are other places on the web to find them).   The 990 is an IRS required document providing their financial information.    You decide for yourself, but I look at just a few things.  Most importantly what programs did they provide and the cost for those programs.   Then I look at their income.   Depending on how significant the gift, I may look at the volunteer hours and/or salaries.  If you need to know more, call or email them and ask your questions.    I can say what is the right balance for me, but each of us determines what it right to us.

Enjoy the day and remember to share.

 

What To Do With Hotel Shampoo-Soap-Conditioner-Lotion

What do you do with hotel toiletries?

What do you do with hotel toiletries?

What do you do with those little mini one use size bottles and bars of soap you get in hotel rooms? Most folks who travel regularly already have a bag with their personal toiletries.   We bring from home our preferred personal care products for an assortment of reasons.   You like to use the same face cleanser you use at home.   You are trying to get the most mileage from your last salon visit and use a special shampoo and conditioner.   You may have sensitivities to ingredients or scents.   No matter what the reason those little bottles either go unused or worse yet brought home and still never used.   There is an alternative.   Bring them home and turn them in to a local shelter.   You can collect all those little odds and ends in a box in your home and turn them in a couple times a year to a shelter.   That is what I used to do when I lived in Minneapolis years ago and traveled lots.

This job has put me back on the road tons and once again. I found myself collecting hotel toiletries. I got to thinking about the local woman’s shelter, and how I imagined many of them left with little and what extra they did take was likely for someone else, their kids. I know that organizations that help folks in these circumstances are prepared to help and work with people who leave with just the clothes on their back.   They have donations and supplies that they give out to the folks they help, and the folks they are helping are probably keeping things in garbage and zip lock bags. It inspired me to take a different approach to my travel goodies this year.   Rather than just turn them in,   I wanted to put together not only a travel kit, but a bag that might be used to keep things together for them.   I know how much I appreciated my travel bag that keeps all my personal care products together.

First I had to make or buy the bags for this use.   I had some odds and ends of fabric from quilts I had made, zippers from projects planned never finished and some quality vinyl that I had no idea how it ended in my stash.   I worked up a design and made personal toiletry bags.   Each was unique, some bright and some with more subdued natural colors.   All of them were designed to zip tight for storage.   One side had the vinyl so that you could see all that was in the bags.   It was a little bit of a trial, but I loved making them and seeing all the wonderful fabrics that were sitting around collecting dust take on a new life.

Once I had finished the bags, RangerSir and I loaded them up with the hotel goodies I had brought home this summer. It was then we then we realized that we had several collections of dental visit “prizes.”   There were not enough dental kits to do all the bags, but we added them to as many bags as possible.   This was the moment we realized it was in our power to make these more than a bag with hotel freebies in them. We headed to the local K-Mart to shop.   We got darn lucky in that they had some full-sized toothpaste for $1 each.   It was more than the travel size and less expensive. We had gotten nice things for less than we had planned to spend.   We were now inspired and on a roll.   We stocked up on single package toothbrushes. We found a dental floss on sale.   We found multi-pack combs and bought a couple sets so we could tuck combs in each of the bags.  RangerSir found travel pack Kleenex that I had not thought to include.   Finally we added razors to each one.

My decked out travel bags for the women's shelter

My decked out travel bags for the women’s shelter

These bags will be going to a woman’s shelter here in the local county.   I was thinking of lots of other things that could be added to my bags, but we know not if the recipient will be young or old, alone or in the company of family members.   So I stopped and hope that this is enough to get a person started and know somewhere out there someone is thinking of them and wishing them the best in what is likely a very bad situation.

In Spite of It All Life Goes On

This weekend here is suppose to be nasty. You can read between the lines for that to mean rain, snow, wind and temps in the 30’s.   Yesterday I curled up and stayed in all day when Mother Nature dealt me a crummy hand.      Today I when I woke up to snow/rain I  said “UP YOURS” and went on about life.     This morning I did my first 5k of the season.

This one was a special one as it was a charity walk for the local shelter’s animal fund.   Albert’s Angel Fund is a local charity  that helps pay for medical expenses for adoptable animals that the local shelter might not otherwise afford.   I love the idea of the partnership of the shelter and the AAF.    Years ago our rescue dogs, Max and Charlie, used to get pledges and annually complete the Walk for the Animals, a fundraiser for the shelter they came from in Minnesota.   Today’s  walk  was a natural fit for me.

If it had been nice weather there would have been no question about participation, but with the rain/snow mix, the wind and the thermometer screaming 34 degrees I was not sure what the turn out would be like.   Heck I was not even sure if RangerSir would participate or not.  We got ourselves ready and out the door before we could change our minds.  The field was full of hardy souls dressed for spring in Montana, the rest of you may call it winter clothing.   There were folks of all sizes and ages, just the dogs were.   Probably the most interesting dog we saw was a Komondor, which I had never seen in person before.    There were also Corgie, Dachshund. Bloodhounds, Yorkies, a 3-legged Pomeranian, Giant Schnauzer, and any thing else you can imagine in between.  The family who parked next to us captured the essence of the field.   They had a little teeny tiny dog of Chihuahua  origin, a large elderly dog of Golden origin, a very young infant in a stroller, a short small mom, and a very tall dad.  See them unload from their rig  and make their family race ready made me glad I had not been a wienie and stayed home.

We finished our first 5K in 55 minutes.  Love that snow in the background

We finished our first 5K in 55 minutes. Love that snow in the background

Here are a couple more pictures taken during the race.     This was the 5th year for the race.   In the first four years of the race it has raised over $13,000 for Albert’s Angel Fund.   Not sure if the turn out will allow us to stay on target, but every bit helps and the race helps to raise awareness.   It was fun to watch the faces of folks in cars to see a mass dog walk.

Look at the puff winter coat.   The rain/snow made focusing a little difficult.

Look at the puff winter coat.

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We walked in a wide right-of-way.

Now as I sit here blogging at home four hours later we are getting the snow that they predicted and yes they might be right it could accumulate an inch before it is done.   Sure am glad the walk is over, but glad I was part of it.

Looking off our deck to our shed and chicken coop.   The snow is coming down.

Looking off our deck to our shed and chicken coop. The snow is coming down.

 

Keep It Close to Home

Recently a friend wrote about charitable giving .   It is something that thousands of us do each day, all the while hoping that our gift makes the kind of difference we hope for.   There are so many places to give how do we pick?

Working for a nonprofit I could rattle on about things to look for and how to pick your charity.   I will save that for another day and another writing.    Instead I suggest that you think about the charities that have touched you, your family,  friends and co-workers.   It won’t take long and you will soon have a long list that has made a difference for you.   When you have your list, always look at the lowest local level to give.   Odds are the local chapter was the one that made a difference to those you know.    Here are some of my favorite charities and why.

Beaverhead County Search and Rescue   They were there the night I suffered from hypothermia.   Volunteers took time off of their regular day jobs and came out and brought me back out to civilization after a night out in the winter elements.    We make a donation to them each February as a reminder of how many folks give of themselves but we never know about them until we need them.  There is likely a volunteer group in your area who is unsung and needs your financial help.

Heart of the Valley Shelter   We give in June when shelters always seem to be exploding at the seams with puppies and kittens.   We always give to the last shelter we adopted a pet from.  It means we have given to different shelters over the years.     Local shelters are on the ground and their funds are desperately needed.   When you adopt now days your pet has already been treated for health and spay or neutered.    Giving to a local shelter can make a difference in local pet overpopulation.

Local Food Bank  I know people who are living on the food edge.   My local county statistics report that nearly a quarter of the children are food insecure, aka hungry, locally.   The food you give to a national organization may never get close to your community.    I sign up for monthly giving equally the cost of two coffee drinks.   I don’t miss it and I am sure that they can do more with the cash than I could have ever done with it.   Hunger is a hidden problem, you don’t know what is friends cupboards at home.

Southwest Montana Mammography Program  This is a new one for me. I had always given to various breast cancer causes, but never felt very connected.   I felt compelled as a woman that every October I should write a check to some pink ribbon charity.   This year I had a friend who had a breast biopsy, who was under-insured.  When she got the bill this charity she was flabbergasted at the expense, and questioned the costs and how she would pay this.    This charity stepped up and took care of her bill, and encouraged her to get the second suggested biopsy.   Susan Koman has given grants to the local charity in the past.    Now I will be giving in the future, this charity is quietly make a difference to women in my community.  I never thought about local women who were skipping mammograms because of expenses.   I am sure there are thousands of them.

Memorial Rifle Squad at Fort Snelling National Cemetery  This was a local volunteer group who for the last 34 years has provided veterans with a military honors ceremonial burial with a  rile shots, flag folding and taps.    They have done this free of charge, never missing a funeral no matter the weather.   We first knew of it why my father-in-law was buried.   Coming from a military family we know how important this is to military families.   Now with more vets than ever this organization can use help to cover all the expenses they incur.

Local Library With the changing world it seems like your local library may be a dinosaur.   Libraries now days are more than just books.   The provide computers for use to people who have none, books both with pages and electronic for your e-reader, hot spots for free internet access and classes.    Today people have to apply for jobs online and without the library they are left out.   Kids who have not computer at home depend on it for school work, applying to college and getting ready to be productive adults.  They host free tax seminars, book clubs and so much more.   Libraries provide so much to our communities.

Local Hospice Hospice has been there for our family in our hometowns as our parents entered their last days.    They were there providing us with support  we did not know we needed.    We have since moved away, and now give to the local hospice who has been there for our friends and someday may be there for us as well.

I hope that this list has made you think about how you can make a difference with your giving.   I really think that giving at the local level can make a bigger difference because more of your dollar ends up making a difference.   Odds are your gift will probably impact a someone you know.

Charity Begins at Home

Last night I volunteered some time to help at a local fundraiser and it reminded me of  how much charitable organizations depend on all of us for their support. Most nonprofit organizations have no fundraising staff.  They are never going to send you a solicitation via the mail or call you.  We often think we have to give big , and a gift of five or ten dollars isn’t significant.   Working for a nonprofit I can tell you nothing is further from the truth, every gift is important.

If these nonprofits that are doing important work aren’t going to contact me, how am I going to find them and more importantly what is going to inspire me to give?  This is what works in our family,  I hope this it will give you food for thought about how you give or don’t give.   Maybe it  will inspire you to give in a very connected way.

In our family we give in the name of someone.  Most of our gifts are connected to birthdays.  It helps spread our giving out over the year.   We do not see our little donations as significant when we are making them.  They don’t  result in us not having enough money for groceries or pay the bills.   We are always surprised at the end of the year the total amount that we gave.  Those little checks do add up and it is not likely we would have written one or two big checks that would have totaled what our little gifts did.

How does it work? A birthday or holiday rolls around and we reminisce about that person and special memories.   Sometimes we know exactly who or what charity we want to pick.  Other times we get on the internet and find a new charity that we think represents that person or feel they would give to themselves.

My grandparents didn’t have two dimes to rub together.  Yet they had a Thanksgiving feast second to none, and they served not only the family but also the extend family and friends.  If you did not have family or a place to go, you must go to Don and Mae Virtue’s place.   Thanksgiving is part of my best family memories and my favorite holiday.  Years after my grandma retired in her late 60’s and 70’s, she would make wonderful meals and serve them at local soup kitchens.   On her birthday, I write a check to the local food bank.   When my grandpa died, my grandparents only had $300 in the bank.  If not for the support  and contributions from their five kids I am not sure how they would have buried him.  Each year on his birthday I send a check to funeral parlor when his service were held to be used for a family who needs it.

My family has a history of military service from the revolutionary  War to the present.  Who has not attended a military funeral and been moved to tears by the 21 gun salute and the playing of taps?  Yet the honor guard  are not provided by the US government at many of the national cemeteries.  There are 131 national cemeteries.   The Fort Snelling Memorial Rife Squad,  provides the honor guard at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery, where I am from.    This amazing all volunteer group in 31 years has provided the rifle squad and bugle player for over 56,000 funerals, never missing a one in spite of some of the worst weather you can find.  This group is supported wholly by the generosity of the volunteers and donors, buying their own uniforms, guns and their transportation around Ft. Snelling to attend the funerals (They have logged over 3.8 millon miles).  Each Veteran’s Day we write them a check to help support them in honor of our military family and in hopes of comforting other military families.

My nephew was born with a heart defect.   He would eventually have surgery at a university hospital, and my brother and his family would discover the Ronald McDonald house charities.  They are a gift to a family in their time of greatest need.  My local hospital has a equivalent facility, the Paul Clark Home .   It provides a low-cost place for families and  folks coming the local community hospital for services, be it surgery, cancer treatments or during rehabilitation.   It isn’t just for families  of children, but any who is seeking medical treatment in southwest Montana.   The Paul Clark Home  doesn’t have a built in budget based on  the help of a large organization like McDonald’s, instead it depends on the donations from folks like you and me.  Each year on my nephew’s birthday I make a donation.

Our family pets have all come from rescue organizations.  Once a year we make a donation to a shelter for spay and neuter services in honor of the joy our pets have brought to our lives.

These are just some of the things on our radar, and I share them with you to get you thinking about your family and how you might give locally and to something out of the box for you.  Using birthdays, special holidays, pets, friends and family as inspiration  gives you a built in giving schedule that allows it to happen throughout the year, and be significant to you.      In September and October I have many birthdays and reasons to give and my donations are likely smaller, and yet in April when their are fewer my gift may be larger.   Some year’s finances are a little tighter and the donation may only be $5 other years we feel more flush and are more generous.   No gift is too small.

I don’t share this with you to toot my horn, but to hopefully remind you that there are many organizations out there on the ground who are making a difference in your community.   They don’t have the staff, money or time to seek you out, they are busy doing what you want and expect them to do.  I hope you will consider writing a check, or donating some time to one of these organizations.  They are part of what makes your community, and country great.   You are and can be part of that greatness. Charity does begin at home, mine and yours.