Give with Faith and Abandon

One of my favorite things about December is the call to action to support charities and nonprofits.  I donate to several nationwide and global organizations, but I also enjoy finding those smaller, local nonprofits quietly going about great work in our communities. A donation to their organizations is always treated with such a wealth of gratitude that it makes my heart sing.

And, of course, I do what I can to support my own industry, the arts. Do you know that in Colorado, for example, about 21% of people donate to arts-related causes, compared to 40% who donate to animal causes? Me, I’ve always liked rooting for the underdog, and in the world of charitable giving, art groups fit that bill.

If you are going to donate to any groups this year,  though, whether arts related or not, please keep one thing in mind . . .

I have partnered with dozens of nonprofits and charities over the years and, by and large, found their employees and administrators to be people wholly dedicated to their missions. Most of them are ridiculously underpaid and overworked. Many are highly educated people who could find financial riches in the private sector but choose instead to enrich the lives of others.  Nonprofit employees are the backbone of our society. They take care of our most needy and vulnerable populations, from abused children to mentally ill adults, from ailing seniors to homeless youth, from abandoned animals to disaster victims.

While the rest of us turn off our lights at the end of a day and sleep soundly, these people lie awake worrying over their most at-risk charges. They dip into their own meager savings rather than let anyone in need slip through the cracks. They shed more tears of sorrow and joy than any other group with whom I work.

So please give generously this holiday season and without constraints. Many of the nonprofit workers I know are operating with outdated equipment, shivering in inadequately heated offices, driving broken-down vehicles to serve their clientele.

If you believe in the work a nonprofit is doing, please trust them to make the best decisions about how your money is spent. If we all insist we don’t want our donations going to “administrative costs” or “operating expenses,” for example, we tie the hands of the people who so desperately need to care for our most defenseless citizens.

When we scrutinize the salaries of nonprofit workers with suspicion, we fail to value the work they do. We should want our best and brightest people working to shoulder our most difficult societal burdens or to bring art and culture to our lives, and in order to attract those people, we should expect nonprofits to pay competitive wages.

And be sure to thank our nonprofit workers this year. Can you even imagine our world without them?