Choose wisely: tips for donors |

Choose wisely: tips for donors

Sara Sturgis, The Park Record

Summit County residents are asked to support many non-profit organizations on a regular basis. When it comes to choosing which to support, the number of effective community organizations can be overwhelming. Now is a great time to do some research on local organizations: on Nov. 16, the Park City Foundation is sponsoring Live PC Give PC, 24 hours of giving in Summit County. The annual campaign asks community members to donate to local organizations; the non-profits that have the most individual donors during Live PC Give PC will receive additional grants from the Foundation.

To determine which organizations to allocate donations to this year, you might want to consider some of these tips from insiders in Utah’s non-profit industry:

Start by thinking about your passions. "Think about what you would want to see more or less of in the world," said Katie Wright, Programs Manager at Park City Foundation.

Anne O’Brien, Director of the Non-profit Academy of Excellence at the University of Utah, recommends doing a little due diligence on unfamiliar non-profits. Start by looking up an organization on to ensure that it is a legitimate organization. Guidestar is a quick reference site that lists whether a non-profit is up-to-date on its filings with the IRS. Next, do some research. "It’s easy to find out things about an organization by Googling," said O’Brien, "ask friends where they give. Ask where they don’t give and why."

Often times, it can be difficult to choose among several organizations with similar missions. O’Brien, suggests looking for organizations that are collaborating. Collaboration means organizations can share resources and ensure they are not duplicating efforts. O’Brien says to look for organizations that can clearly differentiate themselves from other, similar non-profits. Do they have unique or experimental programs? Are they helping a segment of the community that other organizations are not?

Another way to compare organizations is to look at their boards of directors. "A non-profit board is so important," said Wright. Particularly in our small community where you are likely to recognize a few names, looking at a non-profit’s board will give you an idea of the leadership and philosophy of the organization. O’Brien recommends asking for an organization’s strategic plan, which should outline visions and goals. Asking for last year’s strategic plan and looking at how the organization performed in relation to its goals can also provide useful information.

For years, donors have used non-profits’ financials as a way to evaluate how well an organization is run. One traditional way of measuring non-profit success has been to compare the amount an organization spends on executing its programs versus the amount spent to administer those programs. The Park City Foundation’s executive director, Trisha Worthington, advises donors to avoid focusing too much on administrative-to-program spending ratios, "It’s not comparing apples to apples," she says, "every CPA does it differently." Each organization also has a different set of needs and goals, and their financials should reflect that. "For example, a health organization is going to need to spend more money on highly trained staff, while an arts organization might need to spend more money on marketing," said Wright. If you are interested in earmarking a donation for a certain program, make sure to allow the organization to use some of that money for administration. O’Brien says donating to a program without allowing for administrative costs is "completely unrealistic."

O’Brien also advises to look for diversified sources of funds. Just like a business, organizations that receive funding from multiple sources (grants, individuals, events) are generally more stable. Keep in mind that it takes time to develop a base of diversified funding, and ask organizations that are receiving most of their money from one source if they are working toward obtaining more funding sources.

Even small donations are important to organizations and can help immensely. O’Brien points to a report by Giving USA: in 2011, 73 percent of total giving to non-profits came from individuals, totaling $217.79 billion. Donating to local organizations on Nov. 16 will have an even larger impact than the average donation: regardless of donation amount, the organizations with the most individual donors will receive grants up to $5,000 from PCF. PCF will also select random donors throughout the day and add $100 to their donation.

For more information about Live PC Give PC please visit:

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