Monday, December 13, 2010
I was talking to someone at the Digital Family Reunion holiday party the other night, and he was really excited about how well his company was doing: they'd received impressive amounts of funding in the short time they've been in existence, and they just closed a really promising deal, which he has been instrumental in arranging. And then this person asked me something I was really glad to hear, "So where do you think we should start donating to?" It's not something I hear all too often lately, and it really made me think back to what I have done, and am going to do, to give back. When I was in high school, right about this time of year all the students would be involved in a holiday food drive – camping out local grocery stores, sending out letters to businesses, and donating money of their own. All the collected food was then provided to America’s Second Harvest (now Feeding America) and Samaritan House just in time for the holidays. In 2005, when I was actually there, we beat our old 1999 Guinness World Record by collecting 372,000 pounds of food. And the annual effort continues to this day. You may say, “So what?” My point, and message, to anyone reading this blog is to urge you all to look at where you are today. If you’re in tech like I am, you’re probably very lucky to have a good job in a growing industry. So recession or not, there are millions of people in the world who deserve some help – and when is a better time to give than the holiday season? An American Red Cross survey found that despite the fact that 86% of respondents said their personal finances were not better than last year’s, 72% planned to donate the same or more than the previous year, so don’t let the recession be your excuse. Mark Zuckerberg – who’s only 26 -- just pledged to charity at least half of his estimated $6.9 billion (probably much higher since Forbes last published its numbers) by signing onto Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge. Of course, we’re not all billionaires, but there are millions of us. Over 170 million Americans are expected to donate more than $48 billion this holiday season – with an average donation of $281, or an online donation of $378. But donations are still down from previous years, making conditions even worse for those depending on them. I could tell you all about how one in eight people worldwide don’t even have access to safe drinking water, how 43.6 million people lived in poverty in 2009 (up from 39.8 million the previous year), how 14.6% of U.S. households were food insecure and faced hunger in 2008 (up from 11.1% the year before) – and so on and so forth. But I’m sure you’ve heard it all. So if you haven’t done so yet, it’s time to pick something to care about – whether it’s because you saw pictures of the starving children in Africa sent to your home, or watched Jack Black talking about saving the pandas. We all have our causes, both global and local. To help you decide where and how to give this holiday season, here’s a short guide:

Pick a charity wisely.

There are plenty of resources online that can help you decide what charities will use your money effectively. One of my favorites is the American Institute of Philanthropy watch list. The AIP is an independent non-profit charity watchdog and information service that rates charities based on what percent of their budget goes towards actual programs, how much they spend on each dollar they raise, and how open their financial records are. They don’t list all charities, but you can order a sample copy of a full report from them for just $3. Another great resource is Charity Navigator, which will also give you information on local charities and chapters. If you have a finance or economics background, you can do your own research by using GuideStar, which will provide you with IRS Form 990 and 990EZ information from over 640,000 nonprofit organizations.

If you’re unsure about the charity, feel free to contact them.

If you didn’t see the information online, call and request written information. Also ask how much of your donation goes towards general administration and fund-raising, and how much goes towards actual services. According to the American Institute of Philanthropy, anything above 60% is reasonable for program spending, but most efficient charities can get to above 75%. Anything below 40% should not receive your money.

Keep taxes in mind.

Not all charities are eligible for tax-deductible contributions. “Tax exempt” means the charity doesn’t pay taxes and “tax deductible” means the donors can deduct contributions from your tax returns. If you’re not sure, request the charity’s tax exempt letter indicating its status with the IRS. Contributions are deductible in the year they are made, which means that if you donate now, you can file your donations on your 2010 tax returns.

Collect all your receipts.

Do not give cash and be sure to obtain a receipt for tax purposes (see above). So whatever your interest -- human rights, education, animal abuse, or any of a thousand different causes -- take some time this holiday season to find a worthy charity and donate. For my part, I’m donating to Human Rights Watch and the local food bank.
At CallFire, we encourage all our employees to give back to their communities. For those of you who've followed our blog, you know we walked in Step Out: Walk to Fight Diabetes, for which two members of our team donated personally. And as we grow, we're beginning to think about devoting a percent of CallFire equity and profits to nonprofit initiatives we believe in as a company. In the meantime, we're operating through individual efforts and by helping nearly 500 nonprofits get out their message.

What CallFire can do for you this holiday season:

Non-profit organizations that contact the public to solicit charitable contributions are not required to access the National Do Not Call Registry. This means that if you are a non-profit trying to solicit donations by phone, you most likely do not have to obtain prior opt-in consent, making CallFire an almost limitless tool in your hands. You can create mass voice broadcasts to send out to thousands of people at once in order to let them know about who you are and what you do -- and even give an option to "press 1" to speak to a representative if they are interested in donating or learning more, making it simple and effortless for the donor. Or you can set up a call center and use CallFire's power dialing technology to connect your agents (or volunteers) faster and more efficiently. The possibilities are truly endless, and they cost mere pennies -- which can really help with that fund-raising to program spending ratio. CallFire even provides discounts to certain non-profit charitable organizations. So contact us today to see how CallFire can help you reach your goals by the end of this year.
I'll leave you with some very wise words I read a long time ago: "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." ~Dr. Seuss