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Charitable Giving: How to track where your money is actually going

Important questions to ask before you give
Posted: 11:45 PM, Dec 02, 2019
Updated: 2019-12-02 23:45:38-05
Charitable Giving

We’re in peak giving season, but if you’re donating money to a non-profit, how do you know where it’s going and how it’s being used?

According to Forbes, the countries 100 biggest charities brought it $49 billion in gifts last year.

It really comes down to doing your research, if you want your dollar to have the greatest impact.

All giving is great, but if you want your money to stay in your community, some non-profit do that much better than others.

From Angel Tree’s to clothing drives, there are countless ways to give back to the community.

However, if you’re giving money, the Better Business Bureau of Western Michigan wants you to pause for a minute.

Troy Baker the BBB’s Communications Director said it’s important to ask questions before you give.

The biggest one: What does the non-profit do and how is your money being used?

“If you're a non-profit that helps the homeless, how do you help the homeless? What is that money actually going to be used for,?" Baker said, "Make sure those answers match up with what you're expecting and what you want to happen with your money."

One of the most iconic campaigns this time of year, is through the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign.

The fundraising effort has been around for more than 100 years, but what happens to your spare change when you drop it into that kettle?

Maj. Glen Caddy, the Divisional Commander of the Salvation Army Western Michigan, assures everyone that money raised in Kent County, stays in Kent County.

He said, "82 cents out of every dollar, goes into direct service to help our neighbors."

Maj. Caddy added, that money helps the salvation army well beyond the holidays.

“Whether it’s through an emergency food pantry, whether it's through energy assistance, whether it’s through our program that helps people facing homelessness get a place to stay, we have a program that does addiction services."

The remaining 18 cents on the dollar goes towards administrative fees.

Maj. Caddy said, “We believe that every time somebody gives us a donation, they're placing their trust in us, and we don’t want to betray that trust."

That level of transparency is something the BBB says you should expect from the non-profit you’re donating to.

Baker said, “How much money goes to executive pay, how much money goes to administrative costs, how much money goes to fundraising, how much actually goes to doing what your non-profit does, what's your board makeup look like?"

Give.org is a great place to start. Yo can get all those answers in one place.

Baker said “We ask non-profits to give us information on 20 different categories and it’s up to them to decide if they do some or all of them."

If you want your donation to go to a very specific place within an non-profit, there are plenty of organizations that can make it happen.

One in West Michigan, is the Spectrum Health Foundation and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Tamara Vander Ark-Potter, the Director of Communications and Marketing for Spectrum’s foundations, said 100% of a gift goes directly where that donor intended, adding that donors are expecting their gift to have an impact.

“If you give a gift of let's say, $50, you can say ‘I would like $25 dollars to be used for Child Life Specialists at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, but then my grandmother passed away of breast cancer, or my good friend passed away, so I would like to have $25 go to the Mobile Mammography Unit at Betty Ford Breast Services."

She says that ability, really sets them apart from other national organizations.

She said, “We treat every patient, regardless of diagnosis and ability to pay. That is something that doesn't always happen in other organizations outside the state of Michigan."

The hospital is also within the Children’s Miracle Network, so even if you drop a few cents into the jar at the gas station, that money stays within the community.

Vander Ark-Potter said, “Every gift, regardless of the size makes a difference and it matters."

Whether you donate time or money, any non-profit will tell you, it goes a long way.

Maj. Caddy said, “It may look like food, it may look like energy assistance, it may look like housing, it may look like anything, but it’s really just one more ounce of hope in their life."

There are national organizations out there with big fundraising campaigns, but often times, that money might not go back to where you live. So, pop online or give them a call to see how that money is distributed.