On Giving

It’s that time of year. People dig into their pockets to give a little bit more to their favorite charity or an organization that catches their eye. There are several things that Delawareans should know when deciding on giving to nonprofit organizations.

“The IRS views a nonprofit corporation as a company that runs its business for the good of the public,” says Anne Love of Meals on Wheels Delaware. “A nonprofit corporation is formed for the purpose of serving a purpose of public or mutual benefit other than the pursuit or accumulation of profits.”

According to Love, there are more than 1.5 million registered nonprofit organizations in the United States. Although people may associate the term nonprofit with only charitable organizations, she says, some high-profile entities enjoy a tax-exempt status, such as hospitals, schools and universities.

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There are several benefits of giving, and not all of them are readily apparent.

“One benefit is finding a cause that you are passionate about, and volunteering or contributing financially to that mission,” says Rose Bevilacqua of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Delaware Chapter. “It can be the most rewarding act you do in your lifetime.”

Seth Katzen of the Jewish Federation of Delaware emphasizes the importance of communal giving.

“As Jews, we count on the ability of individuals to uplift the entire community and we treasure our historic desire to be full participants in a community’s welfare,” he says. “Donors make an investment in the Jewish community to ensure we not only help meet community needs today, but we will also be here tomorrow for our children and our children’s children.”

In addition to the tax-deductible benefits of making a donation, Katzen says, studies have found that the more people participated in meaningful activities, including giving to nonprofits, the happier they were and the more purposeful their lives felt.

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“If you itemize your tax return, you can take a tax deduction,” says Chris Grundner of the Delaware Association of Nonprofit Agencies. “Your donation ultimately helps to improve the quality of life in your community. While their missions may differ, all Delaware nonprofits are aligned around the same core idea: to keep Delaware a beautiful, livable and equitable community. Recent research has also shown a boost in personal joy and happiness from charitable giving.”

As 2012 draws to a close, there are several trends in the world of charitable giving.

“We’ve seen a few recent changes,” Grundner says. “One is a rise in legacy giving, which is naming nonprofits as beneficiaries in people’s wills or life insurance policies. Another trend is smaller, regular donations to nonprofits from people. Events today are now being arranged using social media and smart phones, instead of traditional means.

“We’re also seeing a rise in something called Giving Days, which is a designated day on which (residents of) the entire state are encouraged to give to the charity of their choice through an online tool.”

Katzen says that although trends are important for understanding change, one key strategy remains relevant—integrated relationship marketing.

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“The industry is starting to change from transactional to relationship building,” he says. “This change of building long-term relationships (often considered immeasurable in the past) is now being embraced.”

Through years of fundraising and donor segmentation, Katzen has learned that, “regardless of age, education, affluence, race or gender, there is one underlying principle that withstands the test of time,” he says. “I have found that successful charities must have a compelling and emotional message in order to touch the heart first and foremost. Only by touching the heart first will the head follow.”

Staff at the Delaware Chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society are amazed by the generosity of constituents, says Bevilacqua.

“We have continued to grow and reach our target goals due to our dedicated volunteers,” she says. “A cancer diagnosis is not sensitive to the ups and downs of the economy. In fact, patients and their families need our support more than ever and our volunteers have always shown their support.”

Love confirms that giving has been affected by the poor economy, but says there is still positive news.

“The ongoing economic uncertainty has certainly been reflected in the value of donations we are typically receiving,” she says. “However, we have also seen some outstandingly generous donations from individuals and corporations who know how important it is to maintain the support to allow seniors to remain healthy and independent in their own homes.

“Donors are doing their homework on nonprofits, and appear to be aligning their giving more closely with their priorities.”

She says corporations are increasingly following the model of foundation giving, creating a clear vision and statement of their giving policies.

Donors want to see a return on their investment, and that their donations make a difference in their communities, says Michelle Taylor of United Way of Delaware.

“We understand this, and are extremely passionate about delivering on that return.,” she says. “Through our strategically focused community impact and community engagement initiatives, we are concentrated on both short-term results and long-term outcomes in three strategic focus areas that are the building blocks for a good life for all Delawareans—education, income and health.”

People give for many reasons. Why they should give is a matter the experts are more than happy to weigh in on.

“People give to take advantage of tax benefits, honor a loved one, leave a legacy when they pass on, support a particular cause, help improve the community, and more,” says Allison Levine of the Delaware Community Foundation. “Whatever the reason, though, it is always a gift that benefits others.”

Taylor is impressed with First State residents’ willingness to lend a hand.

“There’s a real warmth and spirit throughout Delaware which makes our state such a great one, and our people such good friends and neighbors,” says Taylor. “We count on that spirit, that compassion and that generosity every year as we drive our annual workplace giving campaign.”

Says Love, “People should give to a cause they feel a personal connection with, to an organization that they trust to use their donation effectively, and to bring about change the donor believes in.”

Bevilacqua stresses that every dollar really does make a difference.

“Unfortunately, even in unprecedented economic times and when businesses are faced with having to make very difficult decisions, it is more important than ever that we remain steadfast in our commitment to give and improve quality of life throughout the state,” she says.

Grundner offers a challenge.

“Right now individual giving in Delaware is below the national average, despite income being above the national average,” he says. “We all know the state (slogan) is, ‘It’s Good Being First.’ If everyone in Delaware steps up to the plate, we can collectively help move the needle on individual giving. Wouldn’t it be great if we could be No. 1 nationwide in this category?”


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