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A charitable time of year: Do research before writing a check

DeKALB – The donations that many local charities receive around the holidays are critical to their budgets.

Charities take in an average of 40 percent of their funds between Thanksgiving and the New Year’s Day, making this a crucial time for them, according to Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing for Charity Navigator.

“We’ve done surveys the past several years, and it varies from one charity to another, but the average is 40 percent [given] between Thanksgiving and new year,” Miniutti said.

Charities know this well, and many of them do all they can to inform people in their communities about their services and let them know just how much good their (tax-deductible) donations can do for their fellow citizens during this season of good will.

Organizations such as The Salvation Army, Voluntary Action Center, Pay-It-Forward House and Fox Valley Older Adult Services do most of their fundraising around this time. Cynthia Worsley, director of Fox Valley Older Adult Services in Sandwich, said the largest donations come at the end of the year.

“That happens for several reasons,” Worsley said. “People are more in a giving mood, and we ask. Some people give for the tax break, but giving rarely depends on that.”

Worsley noted one local couple, Dick and Pat Husby, have donated stock holdings to the organization for the past few years, illustrating that cash isn’t the only option.

<subhed>Getting word out<subhed>

Both the senior service and Pay-It-Forward House have wish lists on their websites.

“I think however the individual is most comfortable giving is what’s most important,” Worsley said.

Between an annual mailing and the familiar Red Kettle Campaign, Capt. Michael Cho of DeKalb’s Salvation Army chapter said funds raised through the holidays sustain the organization year-round.

Joyce Mathey of Pay-It-Forward House in Sycamore believes she has an easier job seeking donations because her organization has a physical location.

“People can actually come to the house and get a better idea of our mission and what we do here,” Mathey said. “We give tours, we welcome visitors, and anyone can come to a volunteer orientation.”

Although local donations account for only 1 percent of Voluntary Action Center’s budget, director Tom Zucker said it’s crucial.

“That 1 percent is the source of our local match for grants for both our transportation and nutrition services, so there is a definite impact on services,” Zucker said.

“Local giving is strong. The economy is still not great, but people choose to support local programs where they see what their money is doing,” he said.

The Kishwaukee United Way receives only about 10 percent of its funding during the holiday season, according to executive director Dawn Littlefield.

“Most of our contributions come in the form of payroll deductions, so we have income year-round,” Littlefield said. “We do see a small spike around the holidays.”

When donors choose to give elsewhere, such as to the recent natural disaster relief efforts in the Philippines or Washington, Ill., Littlefield said Kishwaukee United Way “co-messages.”

“We try to direct donors the best way to give that relief, in the form of cash or clothing or whatever is most needed, but we also remind them not to forget families right here in DeKalb County that need support,” Littlefield said.

<subhed>Choosing a charity<subhed>

In fact, there are so many worthwhile causes out there vying for donors’ attention that choosing which ones to donate to can be difficult.

Dan Templin, executive director of the DeKalb County Community Foundation, urges research into any charity.

“Read carefully. Look over all the information you receive,” Templin said.

He said it’s important to find charities that “match your passion.”

Miniutti also emphasized the importance of research.

“I think the very first thing is to be clear about what you want your dollars to accomplish, and make sure the charity you’re considering does that work,” Miniutti said.

“For example, you want to give to cancer research. You see the name of a charity and it has cancer in the title, but that organization might be more about patient care. It’s important to vet the charity before you write a check,” she said.

Miniutti said donors should look at the organization’s financial health, accountability and transparency, and results.

“Sometimes measuring results can be difficult, but it’s important that an organization articulate the impact it has beyond the heartfelt stories,” Miniutti said.

No matter how donors decide to give, or the size of the donation, Templin said it’s the act of giving is important.

“Our job [at the community foundation] is to build philanthropy,” Templin said. “It’s not our job to dictate what that philanthropy should be.”

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