Charitable donations have always been a part of the American cultural landscape. Whether it is participating in a local food drive, volunteering time and resources to a shelter, or simply assisting in operating expenses of a particular organization through a monetary contribution, Americans find a way to help others every day.
However, with the increasing number of niche nonprofit organizations and charitable institutions springing up, there is an increased concern among grassroots level donors regarding what exactly time and other resources are being specifically used for. People already feel betrayed or misunderstood by their government; the last thing they want is another group of people using their money for things they don’t personally believe in.
Organization mission statements are the key to connecting a particular ideology with tangible goals and measurable objectives. In the case of a nonprofit or charitable organization, they are what draw most people to a particular institution in the first place. If an organization has a focused, concrete mission statement, then I know what they are hoping to achieve, and how they want to get there.
An unfocused mission statement is the first warning sign I notice when deciding whether or not I want to spend my time or money helping a particular cause or organization. In the best case, an unfocused or poorly worded mission statement represents organizational confusion or lack of focus. This is fairly common, especially when it comes to relatively new organizations, as most people have a way more passion and experience when it comes to helping others than they do writing a mission statement.
However, the worst case scenario, while not as common, is that an organization is using a suspect mission statement by design, intentionally keeping organizational goals and objectives as vague as possible in order to maximize donations. Whether the aim is to then funnel funds into questionable activities, or simply line the pockets of the organization’s board members is hard to tell, but I personally avoid organizations of this type altogether.
In almost every case, a simple phone call or short visit with a member of the organizational administration is enough to tell if an organization is being intentionally ambiguous or if they just aren’t sure what they are doing.
Additionally, if I think that an organization’s heart is in the right place and I agree with what they are trying to do, I will offer a few suggestions to help them clarify their goals and formal mission statement. While it is not always the most glamorous part of helping people, every charity, or at least the ones that hope to be effective, need copy editors and logistics personal as much as they need frontline volunteers.
The doom of any organization is a poorly designed or implemented management hierarchy. Charitable organizations are especially susceptible to faulty reasoning or poor planning when it comes to management design because most people are under the false assumption that with enough heart and passion, all of the details will fall into place.
When I am looking at the structure of a nonprofit, the first thing that I check is whether or not the organization is being operated by a single individual or if there is a formalized board of directors implementing policy decisions. Unless the organization is extremely small, the daily operations will almost certainly be too much for any one individual to effectively manage.
Ultimately, the best decision that I find I can make when selecting a charity is the decision to first examine the local charities in my area. Virtually any cause, whether it is the prevention of animal cruelty or combating hunger, have a multitude of small organizations operating on a local level towards a positive resolution of the problem.
While a local organization may not have the reach or overall influence of a larger, national operation, they do have the benefit of being more easily accessible and open to investigation.