My elderly cat Snickers died on Saturday 1/20/2018. On Sunday, I brought his things to Homeward Pet, my favorite shelter in Washington, without hesitation, to honor him and quietly make emotional space for a new pet someday. But recently, I had to rescind my recommendation of a non-profit, Missy’s Rescue, because I’d read very troubling reports about its care of its animals.
I have a background in non-profit fundraising, although from the murky perspective of the “back office,” that department in the windowless basement which made sure all our donors’ names were spelled correctly in our records and we thanked them accurately for their generous $100, not $1. And I have a love of charitable giving instilled in me by my parents, who to this day help several good causes (and my Mom turned 80 1/17/2018!). My father persuaded his colleagues at his office to forgo holiday cards and gifts among themselves, pool the money and sponsor a child in need instead. And nonetheless I made the mistake about Missy’s Rescue. My conscience is nagging me “Was my diligence enough?” The question I’ve asked myself is a good one: sometimes I react to a place on a very emotional level and don’t necessarily stop to double-check enough after that. Putting the breaks on isn’t bad. Missy’s Place, the first time I went in, had an adorable prairie dog or hedgehog rescue. I think the fact that I couldn’t imagine many places rescuing exotics colored my response.
I encourage my clients to make charitable donations, and I do so myself, yet I haven’t reviewed “how to choose a non-profit” in a very long time. GuideStar, an excellent charity which serves as a clearinghouse for information about IRS-registered non-profits, has 10 tips which are worth reading – a summary is “Give to something you love, and do your research to be sure it’s real.” The Council of Better Business Bureaus has a branch which carefully evaluates charities: the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. A third source of rigorous evaluations is CharityNavigator. National Public Radio ran a piece in 2016: “Choosing a Charity: Should You Go With Your Head or Your Heart?” that highlights a particularly strict guide, GiveWell, which finds lesser-known, high-impact, thoroughly “tested” organizations making a huge difference in the world. This is the guide for data geeks. The Balance, an online financial guidance magazine, in “How to Find a Charity Worthy of Your Donation” lists excellent additional resources for finding, evaluating and funding the agencies which appeal to you. Dan Pallota, founder of non-profits which successfully raised astonishing sums for AIDS and breast cancer research, examines our impulses through a businessman’s lens, and argues in his 2013 TED Talk that we harm non-profits when we insist they don’t meet business standards AND when we don’t “do business” with them – go to the bricks & mortar building and meet the staff if you can, volunteer, ask questions.
I agree with all the discussions above. Take them further – donate to a local organization that helped your friend find a home once upon a bad memory ago when she was homeless. Get together with your family and do a day of service at the shelter where you got your dog. Don’t deny that there is a cause that you love and it’s your top, maybe even only, pick. Just use a bit of care.
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