Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Charity Navigator – A Rating System for Charities (Nicole Wilken)



Charity Navigator is a useful service that rates the efficacy of 501(c) (3) organizations in the United States. The charities are given an overall score based on two metrics, Financial Ratings and Accountability/Transparency. This service does not endorse a particular type of charity or cause, but works to objectively facilitate and encourage charitable giving by highlighting the work of effective organizations.The website is extremely user friendly, with general information about charitable giving and specific tips for donors. For this reason, Charity Navigator is also a great resource for donors who are trying to find an organization that connects with their personal values. In the database, the charities are first classified by their overall missions: Animals; Environment; International; Arts, Culture, Humanities; Health; Public Benefit; Education; Human Services; Religion. Within each of these categories, the charities are then classified by the specific cause or issue they address. For instance, one subsection of Human Services addresses Food Banks, Food Pantries, and Food Distribution. The evaluations by Charity Navigator benefit donors and charitable organizations alike. By highlighting effective charity organizations, donors feel educated and motivated to give and the work of these organizations is continued.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dealing with the Opportunity Costs (Nicole Wilken)



A difficult aspect of the World Relief Campaign is selecting only one project to fund per spring semester. Even outside of the college context, any organization that raises funds to support projects has to deal with opportunity costs – when you choose to fund one project, you are not able to support other projects with those funds. But how can you feel like the project you chose is the most impactful when you can see all the paths not taken? This is a tough issue, and my only answer is to re-iterate the importance of knowing your mission. In SALT, there are many project proposals submitted each year that fit with our mission and what we hope to accomplish in the WRC. And the difficult truth is that we can’t do it all. It is never fun to reject a great grant application. However, the close selection process really forces us as an organization to think critically about what we want to accomplish and the effect our work can have outside of the “college bubble.” An important part of SALT’s mission is to equip students with the skills to see opportunities for social justice in the world around them. Through the selection process of our WRC project, we become more aware of the issues that exist. Simply by having those other options in the conversation, SALTers are better informed about the issues and may suggest service opportunities or focus groups the next year to address them. In this way, the opportunity costs are an important part in our growth as people and as an organization.

In what ways do the opportunity costs in your philanthropy allow you to better carry out your values or organizational mission?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Water.org – A Sample of Effective Publicity (Nicole Wilken)



Water.org is a great example of how an initiative is publicized. Here are some aspects of the website that are really effective:

1) A clear understanding and communication of the issues on an socioeconomic level – this allows organizations to better understand how a solution could be implemented and received by the people in the specific regions

2) Accessibility to people already interested in the issue and people who have never heard of it – a combination of statistics, personal stories, and relevant news; recognizing that there are a lot of ways to get involved

3) Use of infographics - a huge trend in non-profit marketing (see this article by Community Organizer 2.0 for more information)

4) Emphasis on education – the most effective philanthropists are the people who remain invested in the issues and educated about the efforts to solve them

5) “Donate Your Voice” – the realization that word of mouth is as important as financial support

6) Emphasis on sustainable solutions – such as community involvement and microfinance

7) List of references – builds credibility for the organization and allows the viewers of the website to understand the context of the issue and what is being done about it

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Need For Transparency (Nicole Wilken)



 Outside of the world of non-profit organizations, there is a mentality that “non-profit” implies that everyone who works at these organizations is a volunteer. However, someone has to be a liaison between the people who have the money and the people who need the help. Non-profit managers have a variety of responsibilities, including compiling resources about current issues, suggesting fundraising opportunities and mobilizing people to carry out the solutions.

As a fundraising professional: Many donors assume that 100% of their donations will go directly to the project. Be clear with your donors about where the money is going and be able to justify administrative costs as a necessary part of the process. Cultivate a relationship with your donors. Your job is not just about getting donations, but focus on building relationships with your donors as well. Be sure to thank them and, if applicable, ask them for continued support. Keep your online information – like on guidestar.org – accurate and consistent with your organization’s mission.

As a donor: You have a right to know what your money will be funding. Check resources to make sure the organizations are credible. A great website is guidestar.org, which allows you to view the financial documents of any non-profit organization for free. In addition, direct your specific questions to people who work in the organization. Knowing where your money will go allows you to have confidence in your philanthropic decisions. Start small with your donations and make sure you are comfortable with the organization before considering a larger donation. Your philanthropy is as much about your relationship with the organization as it is about your contribution to the larger goal of the organization.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Assessing Sustainability (Nicole Wilken)



Here are a couple helpful resources about sustainability in philanthropy:

Naveen Jain, the founder of the World Innovation Institute, wrote a great article in which he advocates for a more entrepreneurial approach to assessing sustainability. He presents five ways to ensure successful programs, including talking with inspiring people who share your passions and communicating your ideas to people of the next generation.

Another useful resource about sustainability is from the Philanthropy Journal. This article emphasizes that big solutions can be attained with small steps by understanding and addressing the needs of the local community. By focusing on education as a sustainable measure, groups with limited funds can contribute to lasting change in the world.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Listening: Understanding Strengths (Nicole Wilken)



Many SALTers mention that the reason they keep coming to SALT meetings is because of the sense of community that is established between the members of the group. One way we foster close relationships within an organization of about 75 people is through weekly one-on-ones. A one-on-one is defined as an intentional conversation between two SALTers in order to get to know one another, uncover common interests, and better understand each other’s passions related to social justice. Within a one-on-one – usually a casual meeting over a meal or a coffee – the conversation can range from “What else are you involved in on campus?” and “How are your classes going?” to “Why does social justice matter to you?” and “What do you want to learn through your experiences in SALT?” I’ve had one-on-ones where we discussed classwork because we were taking similar classes and others where we talked for an hour about the politics of social justice. One of the best one-on-ones I’ve had was with a “seasoned” SALTer (there are so many puns in this organization!) who listened to my concerns about how the organization was reaching out to new members. She was not only a sounding board for my freshman frustrations, but also talked with me about how we could implement changes to make the situation better for the next year. In this way, our one-on-one allowed me to better able to understand how my personal passions and ideas could be used within the context of the organization. Though I was intimidated by her before our one-on-one, she became one of my closest friends in SALT.
For the first few weeks of the year, we especially work to coordinate one-on-ones between experienced members and newcomers to the organization. In this way, new SALTers get acquainted with the general set-up of a one-on-ones and become more at ease thinking and talking about social justice. After the first couple of weeks, SALT’s social coordinator comes up with fun ways to pair people together randomly. For instance, during last year’s WRC in which we funded the construction of a well, we had one week where half of us got a slip of paper that had the word “water” written in another language and the other half received the name of the language used. From that point, it is up to the particular students to coordinate when and where their one-on-one will take place. Throughout the year, the random pairings allow us to stay involved with what is happening in other focus groups or WRC committees. Using one-on-ones, SALTers learn more about other people, the organization, and themselves – as well as how those entities can better work together.