‘Tis the Season for Year-End Donations

Give us this day...
Photo by Mr. Kris (http://www.flickr.com/photos/krislitman/)

As if holiday gift-giving wasn’t challenge enough to navigate when you’re sustainability-conscious and on a budget, December is also the time of year that non-profits bring out their full-court press to drum up tax-deductible donations. Just about every museum I’ve ever been a member of, every medical group I’ve ever visited, every cause I’ve ever donated to has sent me an email in the last two weeks. Some have sent snail-mail as well.

In the past, I’ve been happy to give. In fact, in the past, I’ve made sure to give to at least one charity in each of my three key cause categories: Education, Preservation/Conservation, and Food Security. Some of my favorite non-profits include:

Unfortunately, having just seriously downsized my career, I just can’t do it this year. Not like that, anyway. But if giving is still important, and I believe it is, that begs the question: What does one do instead of gifting cash to all these well deserving organizations? And if you do give, how do you narrow it down to one or two?

Here are my basic guidelines on how to choose:

  • Pick one cause — animal rights, the environment, education, whatever it is that most pulls at you. If your are flush with time and/or money, consider choosing more than one cause or donating to more than one group within the cause you choose.
  • Narrow to one specific aspect of that cause — I love Seed Savers Exchange for their work in preserving biodiversity to help ensure food security. But supporting the local farmer’s market is just as important. Choose what calls to you.
  • Can’t decide? Consider donating to a group with a broad foundation like the Sierra Club or Red Cross.

Once that’s done I begin to look into specific organizations, asking myself:

  • Can I support an organization with a membership instead of a donation? Membership support an organization plus gives the member free or discounted access to a world of inspiration — a win-win.
  • Can I donate time or goods instead of cash? Can I make or serve meals? Donate from my overfilled closets? Sew pillowcases or holiday placemats?
  • Is it local? Do they help and employ people in my immediate community?
  • Where does their money go? Is it 100% to the cause or do they spend a lot in overhead and administration? Sometimes those hidden costs are necessary. Sometimes they’re less so.
  • What are their mailing policies? Sending out direct mail seems to me a waste of resources, time, and money better spent on the cause itself.

That last one may seem a bit silly, but for me, it’s a sore point every time I open a letter. And that’s the whole crux of this, you have to feel good about what the organizations you support do, otherwise you may not feel as good about giving to them, especially when there isn’t much to go around.

So, who made my list this year?

  • Museum of New Mexico Foundation (membership) — Membership and donations provide the support necessary for education and outreach to thousands of New Mexico students, docent and volunteer training, research materials, conservation, acquisitions, exhibitions and special public events.
  • Upaya Zen Center (membership) — Upaya Zen Center is a Zen Buddhist practice, service, and training center which focuses on the integration of practice and social action in the areas of death and dying, prison work, the environment, women’s rights, and peacework.
  • Quilts of Valor (quilt creation and donation) — The mission of the Quilts of Valor Foundation is to cover ALL combat servicemembers and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor.
And what about my big three causes? Well, they’re still important, and I will remained very focused on them in the coming year, both in my personal life and in my blog. But this season of giving, the two things that hit the strongest chord in me were art/creativity and peace — for all our sakes, especially for those who are sent out to fight for it.