How to Determine Where To Give

Jewish Community Foundation Los Angeles Warren FongHow to Determine Where To Give: An Exercise

By Warren Fong, Senior Program Officer, Center for Designed Philanthropy

With hundreds of causes and thousands of nonprofits, choosing where and how much to give can be an understandably daunting task. This brief guide provides a simple step-by-step framework and starting point to assist donors in determining where to give. The exercise below can be done alone or together with members of your family or other philanthropic partners.

1. The Starting Point

Start by creating a short list of what inspires, interests or is important to you. It may be a passion like your love of jazz; an issue that moves you such as people living on the streets; a foundational experience that made you who you are; a family member; a pet; or a magical trip abroad. For a deeper dive on thinking through this first step, check out Sara Hahn’s article, “How to Make a Meaningful Gift.”

2. Focus Areas

With your list in hand, consider whether one or more of the major focus areas of giving below resonate or align with your list:

    • Animals (animal shelters, animal rescue, or animal rights)
    • Arts and Culture (arts education, ballet, orchestras, opera, or museums)
    • Education (afterschool tutoring, early childhood education, day schools, charter schools, college access or universities)
    • Environment (climate change, conservation, community gardens, or environmental justice)
    • Emergency Response (emergency aid, disaster response and recovery, and refugee support)
    • Health (hospitals, specific disease-related treatment or research, or health care access)
    • Jewish Life (community centers, day schools, summer camps, synagogues, or engagement of populations at various ages and stages of life)
    • Social Services (homelessness and housing, legal aid, substance abuse treatment and prevention, food insecurity, and vocational training)
    • Specific communities and populations (foster youth, senior care, LGBTQ+, individuals with disabilities, Holocaust survivors)

3. Narrowing your Focus

Having identified a few areas of interest, the following questions will help you narrow your focus even further:

      • Geography: Where do you want to make an impact? Do you want to support work being done locally within your neighborhood or city, nationally, or even abroad?
      • Size: Do you prefer to work with a smaller, perhaps more grassroots nonprofit, where any size gift will be meaningful to the organization and its mission, or a larger nonprofit, which may have the infrastructure, scope and history to create broader change?
      • Type of Support: Do you want to support direct services such as providing meals, care, or housing or do you prefer to support advocacy and systems change?
      • Jewish Community: Among the focus areas identified in #2, are you interested in supporting causes in the Jewish or broader community?

4. Exploring Nonprofits

You now have a useful set of criteria to begin exploring nonprofits and programs that align with your interests. Below are a few tips for finding the right nonprofit for you:

    • The Foundation’s trusted advisors are available to provide you with tailored nonprofit recommendations. Email or call our advisors with details about the causes that interest you most and we will suggest nonprofits drawing from our years of experience working in philanthropy, in the Jewish and broader community.
    • The internet is also a powerful tool for finding and exploring nonprofits. Nonprofit search engines such as Charity Navigator or Guidestar can provide you with comprehensive lists of nonprofits based on your criteria. I also recommend looking at where other reputable funders or foundations have given, including the Jewish Community Foundation’s list of grants.
    • Explore nonprofit websites to gain a sense of their work and impact in the community. Typically, the website will list their mission, programs, history, and leadership as well as have photos and videos of their work. For further insights on how to vet nonprofits, check out Naomi Strongin’s article, “Vetting Nonprofit Organizations.”
    • Inquire with trusted friends and family members. Often times you may learn about a great organization a friend is supporting and then do your own research to learn more about whether it aligns with your interests.

5. Organizing Your Giving

Even when you know where to give, you may have questions about how to organize your giving among different causes and nonprofits. The following tips can help you think through how much to give to each cause or nonprofit and what types of gifts you want to give.

      • Use your initial list of interests to help guide you in assessing the importance of each cause and nonprofit. Are you able to rank your initial list in order of importance? If so, perhaps you would like to consider making fewer, larger gifts to the causes that rank highest on your list. If you find they are all equally important to you, splitting your philanthropic dollars equally among a greater number of nonprofits may feel like a more comfortable initial approach. As you continue to give, it is likely that certain focus areas and nonprofits will rise to the top and others may fall to the bottom, which will enable you to create a more targeted and focused strategy for your giving.
      • A common question we receive is what size gift is most impactful? There is not a one size fits all answer to this question. It is important to consider the size and activities of the nonprofit to which you are giving to determine how much to give. A gift of $500 may have a relatively large impact on a small grassroots nonprofit, who needs resources to quickly deploy back into the community. For larger nonprofits, you may want to target your gift towards a specific program, ensuring your dollars support a specific community or service. For example, you can target your dollars toward an area of medical research within a large research university or target your dollars for at-risk seniors within a large family services nonprofit.

Want to learn more? The Center for Designed Philanthropy is available to assist you by recommending vetted nonprofits working on causes you care about, engaging your friends, your partner, or family in giving together, or any other questions you may have about giving. We are here to make your giving experience easy and meaningful.

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