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A Time to Give

This year, give back to your community by giving of your time, talents, and resources.

A Time to Give

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Thoughts often turn to charitable causes at the end of the year

Research from the University of Oregon finds that charity stimulates parts of the brain associated with meeting basic needs such as food and shelter—suggesting to researchers that our brains know that giving is good for us.

Researchers describe this sensation as a ‘helper’s high,’ or the feeling that comes as a direct result of giving to others. “The act of making a financial donation triggers the reward center in our brains that is responsible for dopamine-mediated euphoria,” writes Christine L. Carter, PhD, in Psychology Today.

The research suggests that not only is giving good for others, but it does good for the do-gooders themselves.

Leaving a Legacy  

Volunteering your time or your talents shows your family that it’s good to give back (many children learn through example). There are many organizations who wouldn’t be what they are today without the support of volunteers.

Charitable giving is another way to support causes and organizations. It helps people to not only leave a legacy and give to the greater social good, but offers tax benefits: reducing or eliminating federal estate taxes, capital gains taxes, and income taxes. (Though most people don’t give solely for the tax deductions.)

 “People make charitable gifts for many reasons, but at the core is the kindness and compassion they have for the causes they support,” says Tina Palmer, senior director of development, Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “At Catholic Charities, many people give to us because they feel blessed and want to help others who have not been as fortunate.”

Some of the well-known Catholic Charities’ programs include the Dorothy Day Center, St. Joseph’s Home for Children, Higher Ground, and Hope Street Shelter for Homeless Youth, among other services.

Nonprofits benefit enormously through the generosity of donors. A large percentage of a nonprofit’s budget is often through “planned gifts,” when individuals or families bequest money to the charity of their choice. A planned gift can be made with cash or by donating assets such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, or business interests—even property/collectibles. When it comes down to it, charitable giving is fundamentally an expression of values.    

But how does a person know which charities are worth their time and money? First, research the organizations you’re interested in supporting.

“Take the time to get a sense of what you are investing in,” says Jeremy R. Wells, vice president of philanthropic services, Minnesota Philanthropy Partners. “Make sure those organizations can articulate—either in person or through their materials—the impact of your gift.”

There are a number of websites that evaluate nonprofit organizations based on different criteria. Some of those websites include Guidestar and Charity Navigator.

Finally, your local community foundation can be a great source of information. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be Warren Buffet to give to a community foundation. They aren’t just vehicles for wealthy donors—people of all income levels contribute. Community foundations are uniquely positioned to help individuals with multiple charitable interests give efficiently and effectively to not only the organizations they care about, but to certain causes. They act as a sort of savings account for the entire community’s benefit, a tax-exempt public charity.

“Individuals, families, businesses, and organizations work with and through community foundations to create permanent charitable resources to help meet the challenges now and as times change,” Wells says.

If donors don’t have a specific charity in mind, donor advised funds allow them to contribute cash, stocks, or other assets to a charitable foundation that manages the money. A donor receives the charitable deduction in the year they make the gift, but can determine over many years where those funds go. Donor advised funds are easy to establish and offer a low-cost, flexible alternative to give.

According to Wells, “Donors can see cost savings, tax advantages and administrative convenience with donor advised funds. The community foundation will perform due diligence for all grants made from donor advised funds and donors have the ability to grant anonymously.”

Making a difference

Some private nonprofits, such as the Animal Humane Society, receive no federal, state, or government funding and rely totally on private donations and program fees. In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013, 60 percent of the Humane Society’s annual budget came from community support, the majority used to provide care, shelter, food, medical attention, and sterilization for more than 23,000 animals every year, in addition to funding cruelty investigation and rescue efforts, education programs, training, affordable spay/neutering services, and boarding costs.  

“Donors are true partners in our work at AHS and we couldn’t create a more humane world for animals without their generous support,” says Katie Nelsen, chief advancement officer, Animal Humane Society.   

Community support also helps the Angel Foundation, a nonprofit organization offering financial assistance, education, and support to adults with cancer.

“A cancer diagnosis can pose a tremendous financial burden on an individual and their family,” says Mark Wilkening, Angel Foundation president. In addition to providing financial assistance for food, gas, utilities and rent or mortgage payments, the organization runs support groups, a summer Kids Kamp, a teen outreach/mentoring program, and family topic nights.

Charitable contributions help Washburn Center for Children provide compassionate, expert therapeutic services to children struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental health challenges, the American Red Cross prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies, and the Emergency Foodshelf Network feed those in need. “Regardless of why a family falls on hard times—everyone needs to eat and deserves access to healthy food,” says Jessica Rochester, EFN development director.

The reality is you never know when you, or a loved one, may need help. This holiday season, think about supporting a nonprofit organization.

In the wise words of Erich Fromm, “Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.”



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