1. A specific committment.
Many businesses have claimed, “A portion of the proceeds” will be donated to tornado relief. But “a portion of the proceeds” isn’t much of a commitment, is it? After all, that might be one percent or it might be a negligible dollar amount.
Much better are clear commitments such as, “Fifteen percent of sales,” “one dollar from each purchase,” or “all proceeds.” For example, Zoe’s in Patton Creek has committed to donating $5 of every Dinner for Four purchase through June to tornado relief efforts. That’s a specific, proportionally significant amount (twenty percent on the $25 purchase price).
2. A clear beneficiary.
A claim to “benefit tornado relief” is vague; what does that mean? Outside of an umbrella organization such as the Red Cross, we need assurance that a specific entity with a particular focus is going to be the recipient of fundraising efforts. Whether it’s an entity that reunites pets and owners, or provides a birthday celebration for a disaster-affected child, or buys toys, at least we can know there is an identified need being addressed.
3. Justifiable purchase.
A donation is a nice extra feature, like the 13th doughnut in the baker’s dozen, but it’s not reason alone to make a purchase. Otherwise, you may as well give directly to the mission of your choice and claim the tax deductible donation. Be sure any fundraising organization has been established as a not-for-profit entity (it should specify that it is a 501(c)(3) fundraising organization or similar).
Events have always been great fundraisers because they have the social benefit of bringing people together in solidarity and fun. The more involvement by professional planners/entertainers/organizers (who should be discounting or donating their time and doing the event at cost), the greater the likelihood of success.
4. Track record
You can’t perform your own due dilligence on every organization, but you can look for clues such as a history within the community, previous success in achieving a mission, or experienced leadership. There is a steep learning curve with serving a community, and the existing programs already have a difficult time finding dedicated volunteers. It’s a tough road.
Be aware that a non-profit status does not assure good management. When combined in a focused effort, donations can have a greater impact. Conversely, administrative costs (paper, office space, salaries, etc.) can erode the effectiveness of your donation. A formal non-profit will operate under the oversight of a board of directors and provide regular reporting. Even then, management can still be incompetent or, worse, unscrupulous.
There are organizatons that have years of expertise in disaster response, recovery, and rebuilding efforts. They are held accountable for their financial management and for their results. The Red Cross, for example,has access to well established logistics and distribution channels, while the United Way is able to quickly match recipients with appropriate services, especially after the initial crisis passes.
Require accountability from relief organizations and you’ll be doing victims- and our community – an even greater service.