Nearly 31% of all philanthropic giving happens in the month of December. Yet all too often, donors make decisions about their contributions based on their good intentions as opposed to rigorous research.
From increasing inequality to climate change, there is no shortage of social problems to solve right now, and the good news is there is no shortage of people who want to help solve them. But here’s the thing: Good intentions aren’t enough. If we want to be more impactful in our giving, we need to do a better job of teaching the best practices of social change–to students, to donors, and to nonprofit leaders themselves (you can hear more about this in my new TedX talk).
Here are three ways that you can be more effective in your end-of-year giving to maximize your impact.
1. Research an organization’s performance
A recent study showed that while 85% of donors say a charity’s performance is important, only 35% conduct research on giving, and just 2% give based on a group’s performance. And yet, my research shows that one of the key indicators of whether an organization will be successful is whether the nonprofit tracks its performance. Taking a data-driven approach is important not only for nonprofits to prove that what they’re doing works, but to improve their programs as they grow. For example, New Door Ventures, a job-training organization in San Francisco, takes a rigorous approach to measuring how effective they are at providing a path for low-income young people into the workforce. When one of their technology training programs wasn’t demonstrating strong results, they closed that program and channeled their funding toward their T-shirt business, which was helping their youth get jobs faster. As a donor, one of the most important things you can do before giving is look at a nonprofit’s impact report to see if their programs are actually meeting their goals.
2. Make sure that you contribute unrestricted dollars
By some estimates, 80% of philanthropic contributions in the U.S. are restricted. What does this mean? It means the money is given on the condition that it’s only used for specific services. This would be like going into a restaurant and saying, “I’ll pay for the food, but I’m not paying for the time for the chef to prepare it, or the salary of the server to bring it to me.” The nonprofit sector is one of the only places where investors feel entitled to pick and choose what we pay for. Too often, we ask our nonprofit leaders–the people who have dedicated their entire lives to solving some of the most difficult challenges of our time–to fight these battles with one hand tied behind their backs. If you want to be effective as a donor, you have can’t just fund programming, you have to invest in the infrastructure required to make that programming successful.
3. Don’t just give money, give time
Finally, one of the most effective ways that you can make an impact is by giving not just your money but your time. For example, 97% of millennials say they want to apply their work skills to volunteering. This is a huge opportunity for companies to harness their employees’ talents for good. Last year, Google committed $10 million to Goodwill, a job training organization, to help them teach technical skills to 1 million people. But they didn’t just give money, Google also gave the time of 1,000 employees to help with career coaching and digital skills training. Rather than just engaging employees in one-off volunteer days, companies should find ways to apply their talent and expertise to help the causes they care about.
This giving season, donors must ensure that they are putting in the time and effort to fund programs that work, invest in the critical infrastructure incredible leaders need to run effective programming, and give not just money, but time and skilled expertise to the causes they love. That’s how we turn good intentions into tangible results. That’s how we turn feel-good philanthropy into real-good philanthropy. The problems we face in this world are simply too big to wait.
Kathleen Kelly Janus is a social entrepreneur, author, and lecturer at the Stanford Program on Social Entrepreneurship. Her new book, Social Startup Success: How the Best Nonprofits Launch, Scale Up and Make a Difference, is a playbook for anyone who wants to make a difference, and her new TEDx talk, “Social Startup Success,” is about how to teach these strategies.