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.

 

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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.

Food Insecurity

Food insecurity.  Who the heck coined that phrase?  Why did they think we should call it food insecurity instead of hunger?   Is it ok to say children in third world and developing countries are hungry, but not in the US?   I had not much thought about the euphemism  for hunger much until the other day.  Last week our county food bank received two $50,000 grants.  One of the reasons given was that 21% of the children in our county experience food insecurity, AKA hunger.

I hate to admit I was surprised at that number, but I was.   Montana ranks 38th in median household income and 45 in per capita income.   Those are pretty dismal figures.    Knowing that it should not come as a surprise that children are going to bed hungry here.  I suspect many others do as well.

My times we think of children who are hungry in this country having parents who less than great.  By that I mean, they are alcoholics and drug addicts and not capable of providing a good home life for their children.   I am sure that a part of that 21% is made of homes like that, but I suspect it is not the majority of  those children.

I have lived in many communities where the available jobs and wages are not enough to support a single person, let alone a family.   Resort communities, agriculture communities, communities with influxes of people with large amounts of disposable income made elsewhere that skew the cost of living, and towns where the major employer has packed up and left; all have families who struggle. Sometimes we don’t realize they struggle.  Mom and/or Dad both work full time, but unfortunately the wage scale doesn’t stretch far enough.   Often time those parents  hold a second and third job, sacrificing time with their family.    They are the working poor.  Because they are working we don’t often give thought to the fact that even with two jobs they may not be making enough to support their family.

We see that family as a working family getting by.   Odds are they are part of the 21%.  We only see them from the outside.   We have no idea what is in the cupboard and refrigerator.    They may need to turn to the food bank when rent comes due and the dollars in the family budget don’t support both shelter and food. The family knows staying in their home is critical and that wins out.   They imagine that being homeless is worse than hunger.    Even with help from the food bank the family really has to stretch their creativity to make it all work, so the children don’t go without.

The generosity of others  by giving these two grants has served as a reminder not all poverty or need for help will be obvious.   It is so much easier to see homelessness or lack of warm clothing.  The media loves those because they make “great” pictures.   Pictures grab us all,  all they allow us to imagine that situation. That empathy and concern generates generosity on our part.   Hunger is somewhat invisible.   How do you capture that and share it?   I am not sure of the answer.

What I do know is that the grants to our community and the days it has taken me to write this blog have been moments of great reflection for me.    Hunger is not glamorous, nor will it pull at heartstrings like puppies and kittens, but it is very real.   It is only by the grace of God that I have not had to tap into that resource.  I leave you with these thoughts.

“For it is in giving that we receive.” ― St. Francis of Assisi

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” Mother Teresa