Do's and Don'ts for Holiday Charitable Donations

Throw Coins in the Bucket if You Want, But Know You're Having Little Impact

For many, holiday giving is synonymous with throwing coins in the Salvation Army buckets. This is all fine and good, but you should know that the main purpose of those buckets is as a marketing tool for one of the world's largest nonprofits.

It's really hard for the spare change to add up to a lot of money; in most cases, they have to pay a guy to stay there and ring the bell, so they're merely hoping to raise enough per hour to break even on the bell ringer. It's an effort to get their mission statement out and in that way, those omnipresent spokespeople for their cause are invaluable. The general rule is that loose change doesn't add up to much. If you really want to help the Salvation Army, keep the change in your pocket and go home and write them a real check.

This holiday season, it is expected that charitable giving will again be down, as it was in 2008 for the first time in 40 years. This is, of course, horrible news for the most vulnerable people of our community, as more and more of our citizens are at-risk than at any time in recent memory.

Charities have seen a perfect storm line up against them: Foundation assets are down, corporate philanthropy is weakened, government funding is disappearing, and individuals, the backbone of the charitable world, are struggling to make ends meet at home, before they have the capacity to help others. More of our nation's most vulnerable citizens are at-risk than at any time in recent memory. The best way we can help them is to make smart charitable decisions this holiday season.

Trent Stamp is executive director of The Eisner Foundation in Los Angeles. Previously, he was the founder of Charity Navigator, America's leading charity watchdog.

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