Sam WattsThink Philanthropically

It is giving season.  The holiday season is a time when many of us think about giving.  More particularly, it is the traditional time to be grateful for the things that we often take for granted and consider the needs of the less fortunate. For many people this includes making charitable donations to organizations or causes that matter. Still, it is worth asking, should this be the ONLY time that we give?

Canadians and Americans have developed a culture of year-end giving. As someone who serves in a community based non-profit organization, I look forward to this season because it is a time when many people are sensitized to the needs of the vulnerable and disenfranchised. In Canada, between 30-40% of all charitable giving occurs in the months of November and December. Many charitable organizations raise most of their funds in the final quarter of the calendar year.

Nonetheless, needs of those served by charitable organizations do not disappear in January. The non-profit sector typically runs programs and offers services year-round. The services delivered by philanthropic organizations in areas like health care, education and the arts are not limited to the end of the calendar year. Complex social challenges like poverty, conjugal violence and social disconnection are not seasonal. Why then do we have this well-established tradition of year end giving?

To some extent, it is a good habit. There is a lot to be said for developing a philanthropic reflex when we pause to celebrate with friends and family. Those who are part of faith-based communities are often encouraged to give at specific times in the year. The Muslim community has a well-established practice of charitable acts during Ramadan. Likewise, the Hindu, Jewish, Sikh and Christian traditions of giving are emphasized during specific holidays. It is entirely appropriate to connect times of reflection and celebration with the reflex to make a significant gift to a charitable cause. At the same time, it is increasingly important to be intentional and strategic when we give. We should seek to ensure that our giving produces an outcome, or an impact. Most donors are not giving merely to obtain a tax deduction.

“As important as end-of-year giving is, donors might consider spreading their gifts throughout the calendar year. It’s also an effective way to remain focused on the organizations and causes that you support”

It is also an important time to be on the lookout for misrepresentation and outright fraud. Sadly, this is the time of year when deceptive people will try to take advantage of our charitable instincts. There is no shortage of creative schemes that masquerade as charities. Additionally, some registered charities have a well crafted appearance of legitimacy but misrepresent the way that funds they collect are used. It is a good idea to research a charity before making a donation. Donors should only donate to charities that they know and trust. If we don’t know much about an organization, it isn’t very hard to uncover a fair amount of information by doing a bit of online investigation. Verifying how a charitable organization functions includes doing due diligence and going beyond simply trusting slick marketing or the messages on a well-crafted website.

As important as end-of-year giving is, donors might consider spreading their gifts throughout the calendar year. A practice of giving every month is an effective way to remain focused on the causes that matter, and it is more helpful to the organizations who receive our gifts.

Finally, I want to take this opportunity to wish all our readers a wonderful holiday season and a healthy new year. If you are reading this column, it is likely that you care deeply about giving and, on behalf of the hundreds of foundations and non-profit organizations who serve in a variety of ways, I thank you for your generosity and support.

Sam Watts is the CEO of Welcome Hall Mission  He is also the author of Good Work…Done Better

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