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Letter to the editor: Nia Wassink, Unprecedented times call for unprecedented philanthropy

The author gives a few tips to giving to local nonprofits.
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If your mailbox (physical or email) is anything like mine, it’s jammed with requests from nonprofits talking about the “unprecedented” times that we’re all in. And they’re right. It is unprecedented. And unprecedented times call for unprecedented philanthropy. 

If you’re in a position to give, this is a year to do so with extra generosity. As you’re considering which organizations to give to, here are some tips: 

  • Don’t even think about overhead: Back in the 80s, charity watchdog groups got together to try to come up with a simple way to evaluate whether a nonprofit was doing good work and, therefore, was worthy of continued philanthropic support. As with anything, there is no simple formula to do this. Instead, we’ve created a system where nonprofits are held back from investing in necessary infrastructure by the fear of spending too much on overhead. These charity watchdogs have since published their apologies for creating this myth. So you, as donors, Please, don’t worry about the overhead ratio of a nonprofit. Instead, you’ll have to do the harder digging to understand if they’re really doing the work that you’d like to support. 
  • Look at the organization’s leadership: The sector has long been plagued with organizations that intend to do well, strive to make a difference, and create change, but are led by those who are not impacted by the work or have even experienced it. It would be like Steve Jobs using an Android device. It’s important that nonprofit leaders have proximity to the issues they are serving. For instance, if you’re concerned with immigrant rights, look at how many board members or senior leadership team members are immigrants themselves. This helps ensure that program delivery is always done with the “end user” in mind. 
  • Look to where you’re already involved: If you regularly volunteer (or did so in the before times), do an annual donation of your cleaned-out closet, or interact with a nonprofit, start giving there! By donating funds on top of your items or time, you’re amplifying your impact. 
  • Keep it local: If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that global issues have local impacts. Although it may be hard to think about what life beyond COVID will look like, I know that I want many of my favorite organizations to still be around and thriving. Whether it’s my local arts organizations (who is most certainly struggling right now) or the human services organization that continues to meet the needs of some of the most marginalized populations in our community, I want to ensure they have the financial means to weather this storm. If you want your dollars to make a difference in your community, give to local organizations. 

Not sure where to start? Check out coloradogives.org for a great tool to find nonprofits by geography and causal area (please note that not all nonprofits are on this platform, but it’s a good place to start). 

Please give and support our amazing nonprofit sector here in Longmont!

All the Best, 

Nia Wassink