'Tis the season of the highest degree of individual giving -- the last quarter of the year -- in a year unlike any other in recent history.
Focusing on the devastation wrought by the South Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, the American public has donated a record sum to charities. In 2004, total giving reached a high of a quarter-trillion dollars, according to Giving USA; the two natural disasters each stimulated charitable giving of $1.5 billion to $2 billion from communities across the United States.
But the influx of contributions provides lessons on the accountability and impact of giving. At this time of year, prospective donors should apply these important guidelines on how best to channel charitable giving:
-- Give [to hands on organizations working] locally. After the … the South Asian tsunami, the media highlighted the large … international disaster-relief organizations. These large philanthropic organizations can certainly mobilize resources in all corners of the globe, but organizations in the regions affected may be better equipped to respond to the needs of the residents and their communities
-- Philanthropy isn't government. Philanthropy has an important role in providing nonprofits with the financial wherewithal to respond to the acute needs created by a disaster. But philanthropy is not a substitute for government and cannot do it alone.
-- Where philanthropy can help is by providing funds quickly and in a flexible manner. Charitable givers can provide general support for the nonprofit organizations in the region that tend to the needs of the community day in and day out and are surely to be strained by the emergency.
-- Disasters such as the South Asian tsunami .. are an opportunity to rekindle the bonds of community and connection. Times like these, when there is an unprecedented focus on giving, offer a teachable moment: Individuals of all ages can not only appreciate the warm glow of giving, but learn how to give so as to have the greatest impact.
[Excerpted from an article by James M. Ferris, The San Francisco Chronicle]