By Cmdr. Bill Finch, USN (Ret)
In 2015, Americans donated $373.25 billion to charity, a more than 4-percent increase from 2014, according to the National Philanthropic Trust.
organizations noted they received about half of these individual
donations at the end of the year, either because of the holiday spirit
of giving or a desire to give before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
deadline. Whatever your reason for giving, how and to whom you give can
make your philanthropic gift - no matter the size - more meaningful.
2012 Nonprofit Almanac estimates there are more than 2.3 million
charities in the U.S. This number includes 40,000 registered military
and veteran nonprofit organizations that support servicemembers,
veterans, and military families and tens of thousands more nonprofit
organizations that in some manner touch servicemembers, veterans, and
With so many charities, choosing the right one can seem daunting.
Making a meaningful donation
a cause that is meaningful to you and one about which you are
passionate. What injustice would you correct? What changed your life?
From feeding hunger or curing cancer to preserving the environment or
supporting an institution that positively affected you or your family
members' lives, it's a personal choice and one for which there is no
single right answer.
When you pick a cause in-line with your
values and beliefs, you have identified your philanthropy. By doing so,
you will feel less inclined to support impulsive solicitations that play
on your compassion. In some cases, these solicitations do more to line
the pockets of the solicitors than actually help anyone in need, but it
can be hard to determine effectiveness when faced with an immediate
request. It's best to research a charity before making a donation.
Narrowing down the choices
you have selected a cause, you typically will find many charities
support that cause. How do you make sure your donation is going to a
legitimate and effective organization that benefits the cause that is
important to you?
Gone are the days when you could rate a
charity's effectiveness solely based on which one has the lowest
overhead expenses, which exposes only the poorest-managed charities.
Donors' reliance on only this indicator discourages nonprofit charities
from reinvesting into their own development - which, like successful
for-profit organizations, they need to do. This lack of reinvestment can
keep charities from achieving their long-term goals, which are
important to you as a donor.
Instead of using a one-dimensional
test, independent charity evaluators review charities for accounting
transparency and discrepancies, defined goals, efficiency, and whether
they are registered as tax-exempt with the IRS. (Read “Your Guide to Charity Evaluation Tools.”)
Some charity reviews even are beginning to measure effectiveness by
looking at how close a charity has come to no longer being needed; a
successful charity sometimes is one that works toward its own
obsolescence. Independent charity evaluators also can help determine
whether an organization is fraudulent or attempting to solicit donations
by using a name similar to well-known organizations.
Even if a charity has checked out, avoid the temptation to spread your donations across too many charities. According to Charity Navigator,
one of the largest charity evaluators, focusing your contributions
allows more of your money to go directly toward helping your cause
rather than toward processing expenses.
you still wondering which cause should be the focus of your charitable
giving? Consider that in the years since Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Census
Bureau shows 6 million Americans have served in the military, more than
2.5 million veterans have deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, and more
than 2 million still are serving in either the active or reserve forces.
According to the Government Accountability Office, 1 million
servicemembers will transition to the civilian sector in the next five
The Philanthropy Roundtable and the DoD Recovering Warrior Task Force
have identified private and public charities whose efforts are making
significant improvements in the lives of veterans and their families.
These efforts often complement or provide assistance in health care,
education, employment, and quality-of-life issues for which government
support is limited or unavailable. These charitable efforts help
veterans make successful and rapid transitions after military service
while avoiding common problems. For example:
• Younger post-9/11 veterans are experiencing significantly higher unemployment rates than nonveterans of the same age.
Getting into a higher education program is only half the issue; once
there, veterans must figure out how to graduate. Veterans and military
family members sometimes need mentoring and counseling to adapt to the
• Pro bono legal and financial advice can put veterans on the right path and prevent potential problems down the road.
Many veterans need assistance navigating the red tape involved with
obtaining physical and mental health care or direct care services that
offer greater privacy and access. There's also a need to support
caregivers of wounded warriors.
• Family members need support
extended to them in the areas of education, employment, or
quality-of-life improvements to alleviate the burdens of multiple
separations, deployments, and moves.
• Injured veterans need
housing and adaptive improvements while recovering. Temporary housing
for families near hospitals is beneficial when veterans need specialized
Many veterans need our support, and the desire to help
them and their families in need reflects a fitting gratitude for their
service to country.