non-profit advice

Advice to non-profit donors, from Paul English

  1. Budget. Come up with an annual "giving" budget for the next ten years. Many people donate 10% of their total income to nonprofit work each year - your number might be different. Even small amounts can make a difference.

  2. Diversification. Just like your investments should be diversified (index funds, bonds, real estate, cash), your non-profit giving should also be diversified. Most importantly, you should give to some groups which are local, and some which are international. The local giving can connect you to your community and your work. International giving can give you better ROI. Some people do 80/20 others do 20/80 - pick the balance that seems right for you.

  3. Leaders. Always be open to meet new non-profit leaders which are recommended to you by friends. When you find a leader you love -- compassion, drive, honesty, confidence, humility -- throw money at them.

  4. Cash before Questions. When you find a leader you love, start writing them checks, and then start asking questions. Many donors waste enormous time of non-profit leaders putting through long questionaires which can take tens of hours to complete, thus taking them away from the actual work you want to support. I believe in finding a great leader, backing them, and then seeing how I can be more helpful to their work.

  5. Unrestricted. Most of my checks are unrestricted. When I find a leader I love, I write them a check, and then let them decide how to invest it. After all, if you love the leader, you should trust their knowledge of how best to serve their constituencies rather than having a donor thrust their own beliefs upon them.

  6. Focus. To give you the most leverage, you should focus your giving. For example, I focus on education in Haiti and homelessness in Boston. Having a focus like this means that learning I get from one non-profit can help me with another non-profit working in a similar space.

  7. Story telling. All change starts with a story. Be open to learning the stories of the non-profits you like - join their email list, follow them on social media, and go to occasional meetings. The more familiar you get with their work - including visits to their actual projects - the better you can do in telling your own stories about their work, and thus helping "friendraise" to bring more people into their circle.

  8. Gift Fund. Setup a charitable gift fund at Fidelity, Vanguard or Schwab. Put money into this fund once a year - that will be the amount you write-off on your tax return. Then anytime during the year, you can make donations from this fund to any non-profit you want. You can decide to make these donations in someone else's name or anonymously if you choose.

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