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Holidays are a Time for Giving

Every month for the last 20 years, John M. has been giving $120 to organizations he selected through the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC). He chose nonprofits that work for causes he believes in and has personal links to, including the Capital Food Bank (CFC # 30794), where he has volunteered.

John is one of nearly 81,000 people who together donate over $70 million a year to nearly 5,000 charities through the CFC. That’s an average of about $73 dollars a month for each person. With the strength of tens of thousands of people contributing consistently over a year, it makes a real difference to those causes that receive their support.

“People should give however feels best for them, based on the avenues that are available,” said Kate Akalonu of Everyone Home DC (everyonehomedc.org, CFC #36006), a nonprofit that works to provide services and secure housing for District residents.

November is about being thankful; it is also about paying forward that gratitude through giving, providing organizations with resources to transform our communities and the world. One study estimates that 17 percent of annual giving happens in December alone. For those with the desire and ability to do so, there are many ways to give.

Direct to Charities
The most obvious way to donate is to choose a nonprofit and write a check.  While direct giving requires you to put in the time and research, it also ensures that your gift will be directly allocated to causes and organizations that you wholeheartedly support.

Search for charities on give.org, a website run by the Better Business Bureau. One feature of the site is that administrative costs are listed.

Little Lights on Capitol Hill serves vulnerable residents living in public housing. All funds help to empower children, youth, and families in our community. Photo: Courtesy Little Lights Urban Ministries

Smaller charities might not be listed on give.org, but you can still vet charities in your neighborhood. One way is to visit the nonprofit websites. The National Council of Nonprofits says nonprofits are required to have three years of financial reports and tax forms available to the public on request; most have them available online.

If your time allows, get up close and investigate by volunteering with an organization yourself. That can give you a sense of their mission and spirit and the way they operate, in addition to being a valuable gift to the organization itself.

Finally, you can contribute to the organizations that you have seen and continue to see doing work in your community. When you pass by a back-to-school fair, check which organization is offering back-to-school supplies to students with limited means.

Federated Funds
Another way to donate is by contributing to federated funds. These are a group of nonprofits that voluntarily work together for the purpose of raising money, distributing or delegating the administrative burdens.

In addition to the CFC, some of the most well-known federated funds are the United Way and America’s Charities. Many of these operate as payroll deduction programs as well, like the CFC, the largest of the US federated fundraising organizations. Donations to the CFC of the National Capital Area can be allocated to where you live. Donors can select from 8,000 different nonprofit organizations, including more than 500 District-based nonprofits. These include So Others Might Eat (SOME, CFC #237098123), Sasha Bruce Youthwork (CFC #71809), The Anacostia Community Boathouse Association (CFC #87883) Capitol Hill Village (CFC #55474) and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CFC #50747). Search for your favorite organization at cfcgiving.opm.gov/offerings.

There are opportunities for those nonprofits to meet with donors, too, building local connections. Corinne Cannon, founder and Executive Director of the Greater DC Diaper Bank (GDCDB, CFC #18074), a nonprofit dedicated to providing basic baby needs and personal hygiene products to individuals and families in the DC Area, said GDCDB sets up info tables frequently during the height of the CFC season. These events help get federal employees engaged in the fundraising campaign, Cannon added. “One of the things we really love doing is getting in front of employees and telling them about the work we do,” she said. “It makes a big difference in the turnout [of donors].”

Steve Park, Executive Director of Little Lights Urban Ministry (CFC #89156, littlelights.org), said donations through CFC provide much needed unrestricted funds that allows the organization the flexibility to put dollars where they are needed most. “Whether it is for our new College and Career Program or for the Clean Green Team [or] our landscaping social enterprise, donations from the CFC help strengthen Little Lights to better serve our youth and families living in public housing,” Park said.

The downside of federated funds is overhead costs, which reached 19 percent for CFC in 2019. Nonprofits have to apply to be part of the campaign, with application and listing fees starting at $364. That process and cost can mean newer or smaller nonprofits might not be part of the program.

Payroll Giving
As noted, federated foundations like the CFC are often part of employer-sanctioned campaigns. This is part of payroll giving, when an employee designates a charity and the amount to donate directly through payroll deduction.

It is an easy way to make tax-deductible donations to charities employees select from a portfolio of options that range from a couple of nonprofits to thousands.  But the awards can literally multiply. Many companies will double –or even triple – donations allocated to charity.

Donation matching by employers has become so common at some larger companies that many employees don’t even realize it is possible. That can be true even for direct contributions to a nonprofit. It is worth inquiring at your office.

The World Bank Group (WBG), for example, has an in-house payroll giving program, the Community Connections Program. The WBG matches employee donations made through the program. When the campaign reaches set annual goals, employees can earn rewards from the Bank.

One benefit of a payroll giving campaign, like federated foundations, is that selected charities are generally vetted. And not only are deductions an easy way to ensure you are giving back, often within your local community, but since most deductions are taken from after-tax earnings, they are tax deductible.

Regardless of whether they are made directly to the nonprofit, through employer programs or federated foundations, regular donations are beneficial to the charities because they provide a consistent source of income, allowing them to better plan their work because they have a baseline of support. If a company targets payroll donations to a single cause or charity, the giving is multiplied; a $10 donation monthly from 1,000 employees is $10,000 a month. That is a lot of punch.

Community Fundraising
Another way to ensure you give where you live is to donate to a community foundation. Community foundations pool donations from a particular region or community. The foundation board then selects nonprofits to receive grants, usually made with the goal of improving and enhancing the lives of people in a defined local area.

There are more than 900 community foundations throughout the nation. Examples of these organizations in DC include the Greater Washington Community Foundation (https://www.thecommunityfoundation.org/about) and the Capitol Hill Community Foundation (CHCF, https://capitolhillcommunityfoundation.org/) which has been actively supporting Hill schools and organizations for over 30 years.

The benefit of these local foundations is that they and their board members are part of the community, familiar with the individuals and organizations that call it home. The combination of their usually small size and proximity to the people and problems where they live mean they are often able to meet concerns swiftly as they arise, addressing needs in areas from arts and education to disaster mitigation.

For example, in 2020 CHCF managed to augment their usual grants with an additional $100,000 in special grants to organizations struggling to meet community needs during the pandemic. That was on top of the $220,000 in regular grants provided that year.

Funds for CHCF grants come from residents and businesses of the Capitol Hill community. There are no paid staff; everything is done by volunteers. The 28-member Board covers all administrative costs.

“We pool the resources of everyone in the community to make big things happen,” said CHCF President Nicky Cymrot. Since its founding in 1989, CHCF has donated more than $13 million to a broad range of local organizations and initiatives.

Giving Circles
Giving circles are a group of people with shared values who pool donations and decide collectively where to contribute the funds. Giving circles are described as “people-powered philanthropy” by Philanthropy Together (philanthropytogether.org), an organization that promotes and supports collective giving.

According to philanthropy magazine Alliance, giving circles were popularized in the 1980s and 1990s by women, often women of color, who were beginning to earn their own money and who wanted to distribute it in a way that challenged the patriarchal structure of giving.

One of the most widely-popularized early DMV giving circles, Womenade, began when a physician working for Unity Health Care and her friends decided to make their monthly potluck gathering donation based. The monthly $35 donation was pooled and donated to a variety of worthy causes. Today, more than 2,500 giving circles exist across the nation, many in the District. Founded in 2019, Next Gen Giving Circle (NGGC, www.nextgengivingcircle.org) pools monthly donations, then makes monthly grants to causes through an applications process. In 2023, NGGC identified organizations working to advance the economic justice and financial security of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) in the DC region.

Giving circles allow most everyone with a modest amount of monthly income to directly participate in philanthropy. The volunteer nature of the system reduces overhead costs. The democratic nature of the process means circles have greater flexibility to meet hyperlocal needs as they arise. That means giving circles can target smaller, often overlooked needs and causes, from granting funds to purchase a projector needed for an art project to providing a deposit that secures housing for a family at risk.

Giving is the important action. “People need to explore what works best for them,” Everyone Home DC’s Akalonu said. “At the end of the day, give where it makes you feel comfortable. There are so many different ways that you can support organizations and make a difference.”

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