Donations, Please!

Six simple steps to making smart charitable decisions.

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I don’t think so. It seems like now that we have more to give, we give less. Dr. Alvin Poussaint of Harvard Medical School told The Carnegie Reporter, “African Americans don’t have enough commitment to charitable giving even though it works in their behalf . . . It has to improve because right now it’s not sufficient to support our organizations. We can do much, much better. Indeed it’s crucial for African Americans to give more.”

The ranks of African-American philanthropists include a number of individuals who do give—and give significant sums. However, Oprah Winfrey is the only African American listed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s 2007 list of the 50 most generous donors. Significant numbers of African Americans who have the capacity to give either do not give at all or are not giving enough. Even if we may not have the capacity to make seven-figure contributions, in many cases we can give $500 or more.

We have more African Americans in the ranks of the middle and upper middle class than ever before. Many of these individuals have the capacity and resources to be philanthropists. They should be making more of a concerted effort to use those resources, in part, to financially support the organizations that are struggling to alleviate poverty, provide equal educational opportunities to all regardless of race and economic status and reform the criminal justice system.

Consider living by Black Enterprise’s Declaration of Financial Empowerment Principle 10—”I will use a portion of my wealth to strengthen my community.” Maybe one day more of us will live by Oprah Winfrey’s statement “the benefit of making money is to give it away.”

While every one has causes near and dear to their heart, here are some ways to become an effective donor:

· Consider giving both to organizations run by African Americans and organizations that are not run by African Americans, but work on issues related to the African-American community and organizations.

· Consider focusing your giving on one organization rather than a number of organizations. By focusing your giving on one organization, you will be able to have more impact, rather than giving smaller amounts to a number of organizations.

· Rather than purchasing tickets for fundraising events, consider giving unrestricted funds or general operating support to a nonprofit organization. If you purchase a $1,000 ticket for a gala dinner, a portion of your ticket price goes toward the event expenses and is not retained by the organization. However, if you write a check for $1,000 that is non-event related or over and above the cost of the ticket, the organization receives the full $1,000.

· Decide whether you want to assist an individual or an organization. There are a number of programs that allow you to pay the costs of a private school education or provide a scholarship for a particular student. You can also support programs that provide scholarships to students or after-school services to youth.

· Determine whether you want to support programs or advocacy. Some organizations provide direct services to individuals such as food banks, after-school programs and legal representation of indigent persons. On the other hand, some organizations advocate for public policy change. Some organizations perform both direct service and advocacy.

· Consider forming a giving circle with friends, colleagues and family. In a giving circle, individuals pool their charitable resources and jointly decide the types of organizations they would like to support.

Angelia Dickens is an attorney at a nonprofit organization.