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#GivingTuesday and Responsible Giving

By Alexandra Blaney

The Tuesday after Thanksgiving in the United States, November 28th, is #GivingTuesday – the designated day to give to charities. Since its founding by the New York-based 92Y in 2012, along with the United Nations Foundation, #GivingTuesday has grown into a global phenomenon with similar campaigns extended in many other countries.  You probably have been inundated with emails from charities asking you to give on #GivingTuesday and have seen the social media posts.  But before you give, you should do your due diligence and make sure you are giving responsibly.

The issue of responsible giving is something that was really brought home to us in the making of our latest film The Wrong Light.  Mickey Choothesa had founded an organization in Thailand called COSA with an “upstream” prevention approach to trafficking. He promoted COSA as a sanctuary providing educational opportunities for young girls and his work drew international donors, a steady stream of western visitors, and global press attention. However, conversations with both the girls and their families contradicted Mickey’s version of their stories, and we unexpectedly uncovered both financial and marketing fraud.  As a filmmaking organization, we were already sensitive to issues of representation (and recently wrote about our thoughts on media literacy), but this experience led us to believe that narrative transparency is just as important as financial transparency for non-profits and donors.

A new survey done by the BBB (Better Business Bureau) found that millennial parents are more likely than Gen X, boomer, or Silent generation parents to research charities before making a donation and to discuss giving with their children.[i]  We should follow millenials’ lead and all do this.  To help you, we’ve developed this checklist of what you should be looking for before you give.

    1. Verify Your Charity is actually a charity. Just because they are asking for donations does not mean they are actually a registered charity. There are a number of websites that provide information on charities, including whether or not they are a 501(c)(3) public charity registered with the IRS (in the US). org, Guidestar.org, and Give.org are a couple recommendations.
    2. Check for Financial Transparency. Transparent organizations should have their financials publicly available for you to view.  You can read over the 990 tax returns but also check to see if they have annual reports that may present financials in an easier to understand format (along with impact information).
    3. Check for narrative transparency. The choices that organizations make in their use of images and messaging reflects the organization’s values and has an impact on the people they are trying to help.
      1. Does the organization have a published Images and Media Policy or is it a signatory to an existing code?
      2. If not, when you look at the organizations images and messaging, do they appear to be presenting people with dignity and respect and providing context for the images.  You can read a comprehensive images and message code of conduct developed by Dóchas here.
    4.  Follow Through. After you’ve given, does the charity follow through?
      1. You should receive a receipt for your donation, at least for tax purposes
      2. The organization should also report on their work and how they used donations to further their mission.
    5. This is just a starting point on giving responsibly and respectfully.  You are giving because you want to help make the world a better place for all people, so take steps to ensure your money is actually contributing to long-term, sustainable impact that will transform people’s lives.


      [i] http://www.give.org/news-updates/news/2017/11/new-survey-millennials-are-raising-the-next-philanthropic-superheroes/

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