The leaves are changing; covering our sidewalks and lawns in a patchwork of red, yellow and orange, signaling the beginning of fall. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, the sea is getting a little choppier and the sun is descending earlier.
Along with these changes, we begin the annual traditions that come with the holiday season, including taking time to practice gratitude and reflect on the year that is coming to a close. For me, this time feels like an annualized sacred tradition of reflection where we spend time pausing and giving thanks for the things we are grateful for in our lives. It feels like our very own American self-care regimen, a way to force us to practice gratitude and ensure we appreciate our good fortune.
Thanksgiving heralds this introspection as we focus on our gratitude for having enough food on our table, a roof over our heads and our health to enjoy the company of others. Yet there are so many in our community who cannot say the same. So this season allows us an annual opportunity to share with those less fortunate than us and an opportunity for us to share a little to help support others.
We know that our Santa Cruz community has a serious poverty problem and the data corroborates what we see. Santa Cruz County consistently ranks as having the second highest poverty rate in the state, only behind Los Angeles County. We are fortunate to have so many trusted nonprofits working to address this complex issue in a myriad of ways and from many perspectives with the generous support of the community who also are practicing their own self-reflection.
As a nonprofit Chief Executive Officer, I have found that people assume that government pays for services for those experiencing poverty. The reality is that while government pays for a portion of nonprofit services, donors fill in the gaps. While many nonprofits exist only due to the generous support of donors like you — local community members that are seeking local responses to regional issues.
It truly is exciting to see how nonprofits can come together to provide needed services. Services like free counseling without the reimbursement of Medi-Cal, and Adult Day Health Services to seniors and people with medically complex needs when reimbursements only covering 75% of the cost.
Donors like you close the gaps in funding and ensure that essential services will be provided to those in our community in need, regardless of state and federal funding changes and in some instances making them 100% community led and funded. Now more than ever we need supporters to invest in local solutions.
This past year across the states we saw a 2.7% increase in the economy, yet a sector wide reduction of 6% less donors and 2% less nonprofit donations nationwide according to the 2019 Giving USA report.
So let’s come together as a community and show our gratitude through giving.
During this season of giving, I often get asked the following questions by donors, friends and family: How can I ensure my donation matters, is used for the most good or ensure it will make a difference? First and foremost, every donation matters no matter how small. Being on both sides of the fence, as a donor and as a nonprofit administrator, I understand these concerns and questions.
Here are the a few things you should consider before donating:
Give to What Matters: Give to agencies that are creating solutions to what you see as the greatest issues our community is facing.
Give Locally: Did you know that according to Giving USA report that 20% of donations from Santa Cruz go to international organizations? Donating locally not only helps those in need here in Santa Cruz — it has a ripple effect in the health of local economy and helps provide thousands of local jobs. Almost one in four (23.8%) Santa Cruz County residents are living in poverty, so you don’t have to look far to see where you can make a difference.
Give wisely by making sure you Gather Information, Ensure Governance, Check Marketing Levels, Compare Administration Costs, and look at Effectiveness and Equity.
Gather Information: Use Charity Navigator and GuideStar to help research nonprofits. Nonprofits are legally required to disclose their 990 forms to the public. The 990 form will provide you with basic information like executive compensation, lobbying efforts, and marketing costs — these forms can be found on many nonprofit websites, or through a simple Google search. If they do not have them available, ask for them. Look and ask yourself: do those expenses make sense?
Ensure Governance: Nonprofits that are committed to transparency and accountability have committees of local professionals helping to manage the organization. Review their meeting notes and see if they are asking the right questions. Are they thinking about the future or are they reactionary? Ensuring agency oversight will tell you more about the stability of your donation.
Check Marketing Levels: Although marketing is an essential part of any business, ensure that the spending is proportional so that these expenses are not taking away from direct services.
Compare Administration Costs: No nonprofit can efficiently run without qualified professionals. However, some questions to ask yourself before donating: for the size of the staff, and financial responsibility, are the administration costs reasonable? You can find this information under the organization’s 990 forms and can compare this to what other professionals are earning to get a better understanding if the compensation is reasonable.
Effectiveness: The broadest measure of effectiveness is: how many people does this program or agency touch? The next measure is: how deep does the agency impact people’s lives and how much time do they spend working with clients? The reality is that providing and serving a meal and providing counseling are measured entirely differently. Make sure you compare apples to apples when setting your expectations.
Equity: Equity seems to be the buzzword of the moment, but rarely is it measured. That is why it is critically important that nonprofits begin to measure their wage equity and ensure that the highest paid employee makes no more than 5 times the lowest paid employee, this wage ratio should be less than 5. This measure ensures nonprofits are able to have the flexibility to invest in top talent, but not at the expense of services or other coworkers.
At Community Bridges, we are proud that our ratio is 3.92. Look on the 990 form to see the salary of the highest paid individual and then divide it by minimum wage or the agency about their entry wage. Commitment to ensuring equitable pay is a key indicator of an effective nonprofit and that they themselves live up to their values.
In this upcoming season of giving, my recommendation is to go beyond name recognition and invest the time to really understand how your hard-earned dollar will be used. Taking these steps will help you make an informed decision and ensure that your money truly makes an impact.
Wishing you and yours a happy holiday season and that you allow yourself time to take stock of your year, and find opportunity for self-reflection and to be thankful.
For more info: https://communitybridges.org