The holiday season is a huge time for charitable giving, when many people, after taking stock of their own lives with friends and family, feel the need to return some of that goodness.
Americans gave more than $389 billion to philanthropic endeavors in 2016, a 4.2 percent increase from 2015, according to the National Philanthropic Trust. The largest source of that total came from individuals across the nation, who reached into their pockets and gave $281.86 billion.
A good chunk of that giving — a little more than 33 percent — happens in the final three months of the year, with December accounting for roughly 18 percent of all giving during the year.
Along with the sense of doing right by their communities, Americans also receive tax deductions if they make their end-of-year giving decisions by Dec. 31; according to the NPT, roughly 91 percent of households with a high net worth give to charity.
But with so many options for charitable giving, where does someone even start?
Chany Ockert, a nonprofit consultant based in Bigfork with more than 15 years of experience in the field, said the best way for people to start is to turn their focus internally and see what they feel the most powerfully about.
“The biggest piece is to find something they’re passionate about,” Ockert said.
And in the Flathead, where there are about 400 nonprofits without counting churches, there’s bound to be a local organization that shares the same values and goals as a potential giver. The website Charity Navigator at www.CharityNavigator.org can help start a search, and the Flathead Nonprofit Development Partnership also has a listing of some local agencies.
Once givers have identified a cause, Ockert said their next goal should be finding an organization that can show how its donations are used.
“Look for nonprofits that can show what the impact is,” she said.
By their very nature, nonprofits are required to be transparent with finances. Ockert said anyone looking to dig into a nonprofit’s financials can find information at the National Center for Charitable Statistics, which is part of the Urban Institute.
When investigating financials, Ockert said one guidepost is to check out how much of the nonprofit’s finances go toward administration and fundraising. Both are necessary aspects of a nonprofit, she said, considering that they have to raise money and then have a way to administer those funds.
“A nonprofit should have between 15 and 40 percent of the expenses spent on administration and fundraising,” Ockert said. “If it is beyond 50 percent, then the nonprofit is not effective.”
Another aspect to consider is the value of giving to a local nonprofit or charity organization versus one with a national presence. Dollars given to local groups tend to stretch further and have more impact in the community, Ockert said.
And if a bulk gift at the end of the year is pushing it for someone’s personal finances, Ockert suggested setting up a monthly donation calendar to a nonprofit of choice. Not only does that give the nonprofit a sense of financial stability, knowing it will have a certain amount of cash coming in monthly, but it also makes it more manageable for the giver.
“Consider giving locally; if you give locally, then we are bettering the quality of our community,” Ockert said. “And consider how to best give; the most effective is give monthly to nonprofit.”
The Economic Value of Nonprofits
Montana’s nonprofits not only serve their target demographics, but also play a large role in the state’s economy.
Total wages paid by nonprofit organizations in Montana annually
Total number of nonprofit employees in Montana
Number of wage-paying charitable nonprofits in Kalispell
Number of employees of nonprofits in Kalispell
Local wages from Kalispell organizations
About 45 percent of Montana’s nonprofits run on budgets of less than $500
About 1 percent of Montana’s nonprofits run on budgets of more than $10 million