How to make the most impact with your donations to nonprofits

Ashley Davis sorts through donated coats at Operation Holiday in Towne West Square on Wednesday. Many organizations receive the bulk of their donations during this time of year.
Ashley Davis sorts through donated coats at Operation Holiday in Towne West Square on Wednesday. Many organizations receive the bulk of their donations during this time of year. The Wichita Eagle

It’s the holiday season: The time when 50 percent of nonprofits receive the bulk of their contributions for the year.

That giving allows organizations to provide shelter for the homeless, clothes for children, food for abandoned animals, books for kids and much more.

It’s also a season when storage areas become crammed, sometimes with dirty clothes or well-worn toys. In some cases, nonprofits have to spend time sorting through items, throwing some away or calling another to pick up goods that aren’t the best fit for them. It’s what happens when people donate women’s clothes to the men’s shelter or worn out toys to the children’s home.

Here are some tips on how to make the greatest impact with your holiday giving.

Local nonprofits

Debbie Kennedy, chief executive officer of the Wichita Children’s Home, said Wichita is a caring and giving place, something she sees every day through donations.

“We are so grateful for this community and the people who are willing to write out the check or go shop for the kids,” she said.

Donating for kids is easy, she said. If you’re buying something for your child, just buy the same thing for a child in the children’s home.

The same thing applies in reverse: If you wouldn’t want your child to wear it, then don’t give it to another child, she said.

Denny Bender, executive director of the Union Rescue Mission, said there’s a simple way to make sure a donation will be meaningful: Ask.

Sometimes people want to give a family a turkey dinner — but the family might not even have an oven, Bender said. Home-baked food might taste better, but it might not have the shelf life a food pantry needs.

“You try and match the help you provide to their living conditions or circumstances,” Bender said.

The importance of money

While things such as food and clothing can help an organization, many say money can be the more practical gift.

While an individual is only able to buy so much with a certain amount of money, an organization can stretch that money by buying in bulk, said Garland Egerton, executive director of Inter-Faith Ministries.

Money also covers things such as operating costs and salaries.

“We really count on this time of year and people’s kindness and generosity in the giving season,” said Wendy Glick, executive director of Catholic Charities.

Sometimes people will give money, but will designate it for a particular cause or item. While that might work out well, it may also mean that the money isn’t going somewhere with the greatest need, Glick said.

“Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call the folks at the programs and ask them, ‘What is your greatest need?’” she said. “They know where they struggle to find financial support or in-kind gifts.”

Responding to disasters

Last month, Nonprofit Quarterly reported that nonprofits were seeking cash donations over things. They focused on natural disasters, pointing out that “donated ‘stuff’ is often more work than it is relief.” Sometimes the donations take up valuable work space. Sometimes they have to be thrown out, cleaned or transferred elsewhere. Usually money is the best option, they say.

Even if you’ve donated to disaster response when it happened, consider doubling back during the holiday to see what else is needed. Nonprofit Quarterly points out that assistance is still needed in the months and even years following a disaster.

Other tips for effective giving:

  • Stick with the wish list. Egerton said most organizations take the time to craft lists based on what they most need. An item that is slightly different or even seems better might not be the right fit.
  • Make sure you’re giving to a legitimate organization using a website like GuideStar, which allows you to view nonprofits’ tax forms, or Charity Navigator, which ranks charities on financial health, accountability and transparency.
  • Make sure used items are cleaned and in good condition.
  • If you want a 2017 tax write-off for your donations, don’t wait until the last few days of the year. Charities are required to go by the postmark, not the date on the check. The same applies for online giving: The IRS treats the legal gift date as the day a charge hits a person’s account.

Officer Charley Davidson shares where and what to donate to the Wichita Police Department's collection for the homeless.

Katherine Burgess: 316-268-6400, @KathsBurgess

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