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Did You Intend to Fund That?

This blog originally ran in the Savannah Morning News on Oct. 9, 2018.

For most of us, donating hard-earned dollars to a charitable cause is a matter of the heart…and the purse.

Here’s the purse part: The US Census Bureau reports that Georgia’s 2016 median household income was $53,559.

The Motley Crew reports that households earning over $50,000 in that same year itemized charitable deductions of around $2,970.

This means the “average” Georgia worker, putting in 2,007 hours and taking 80 hours of vacation in 2016, labored for more than 111 hours to support causes she loves!

Knowing this, I believe it’s worth taking time to ensure your dollars actually make the impact your heart intended.

First, visit the organization’s website. Sign up for their newsletter. “Follow” or “like” related social media pages so you receive regular updates.

Real-life examples often provide a clearer picture of how an organization carries out its work than do muddled mission statements and complicated strategies.

For example, if you donated on the basis that an organization is faith-based look for indications in their interaction with others. Seek out stories that confirm hard numbers such as meals served, nights of shelter provided, number of scholarships distributed, or low-income families supported.

Second, download the organization’s annual IRS Form 990, which is free from numerous websites. Note two key areas: Program Service Accomplishments and Key Employee Compensation.

Charities are overseen by volunteer boards of directors who monitor compensation and expenses. You can be confident in the processes behind these numbers. However, only you can decide whether the cost of the mission is one you can continue to support.

Third, recognize the blurring of lines between public and private foundations.

Generally speaking, public charities ask for your dollars while private foundations are funded by corporations or wealthy individuals using their own money. The largest American foundations include familiar names: Gates, “Silicon Valley,” Ford, Soros, Hewlett, Bloomberg, Getty, Lilly, and Duke. Total assets reported in 2015 exceeded $151 billion.

(Georgia’s largest private foundation is the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, which reported assets of $3.31 billion in 2017. Like Mr. Woodruff, two others in Georgia’s top four earned their wealth working with The Coca-Cola Co.)

My devotion to philanthropy is rooted in my deep regard for personal freedom, my confidence in the free market, and my respect for the tangible impact dollars have when put to use where donors intended.

Private foundations serve as pipelines of generosity to not-for-profit, non-governmental organizations dedicated to causes aligned with the foundation’s stated purpose.

To assess whether you share this vision for your donated dollars, simply visit the foundation’s website. If you’re going to work over 111 hours to make a gift, it’s worth knowing.

In 2017, Americans donated over $410 billion to non-profit organizations. Likely, almost $3,000 of that came from you.

A growing confidence that your dollars are funding your values will motivate you to give more, I predict!

Want a professional perspective on your project? Contact Phoenicia.

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