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When You Want To Give, Here's How To Vet Your Options


This is The Call-In.


MONTAGNE: Devastating hurricanes, a major earthquake in Mexico City, forest fires in northern California and the mass shooting in Las Vegas - after so many tragedies, people around the country are asking how they can help. In The Call-In this week, your questions about charitable giving.

MARK PAZ: Hi, my name is Mark Paz (ph).

RENEE KAPELUS: Hello. This is Renee Kapelus (ph).

CAROL SCHULTZ: Good morning, this is Carol Schultz (ph). And I'm calling regarding donations.

KAPELUS: How do you know if this organization is actually giving to the charity or if they're taking a very large part of it for themselves?

PAZ: Thank you.

SCHULTZ: Thanks.

KAPELUS: Thank you. Bye-bye.

MONTAGNE: Una Osili is the Director of Research at Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. She joins us on the line from WFYI in Indianapolis. Thanks for joining us.

UNA OSILI: Thank you for having me.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's start with a very basic question. If someone wants to give money, how can they figure out where they should give?

OSILI: Well, great question - the good news is today there are a number of resources that potential donors can consult. There are the well-known, well-established websites like Charity Navigator, BBB Wise Giving Alliance - but even newer resources like givewell.org. And another option is to read the materials on the organization's website itself as well as reaching out directly - sometimes picking up the phone to confirm that this is the best way to support that organization, and these are the kinds of resources that that organization needs.

MONTAGNE: Well, we did get a question from a listener about how to assess different charities. Let's listen.

SETH CALINTERI: Hi, my name is Seth Calinteri. I do want to be someone who donates, but I don't want all the money to go to infrastructure of charities. How can my money have the most impact?

MONTAGNE: So let's say you do go to Give Well or Charity Navigator. I mean, how would you make sure your money is having the most impact?

OSILI: Yes. So I think it starts with, typically, what type of cost do you want to support. So let's say a donor is very interested in targeting their donation to help assist in Puerto Rico. But I think there you want to look at organizations that have a track record, an established reputation but also some presence in Puerto Rico so that it's easy for them to deliver those services. And so that's where looking at the organization's website is very helpful because to date many organizations are posting in real time what they're doing and what's happening. You can also look at a variety of news reports to see which organizations have an established presence on the ground.

MONTAGNE: Well, also in recent years, there has been criticism of aid organizations for not being transparent enough. People expect that now. The Red Cross, for example - NPR's reporting has raised questions about how that organization has spent donations after some big natural disasters. But it's not alone in this sense. When people hear about these incidents or questions they - what? - they - do they become weary of donating? And what do you tell them?

OSILI: Right. Today's donor is increasingly sophisticated and aware. And many donors are also looking for a great deal of accountability and transparency, perhaps, in a way that has not been possible in the past. So nonprofits of all sizes have an opportunity, not just to engage donors in giving but also in letting them know how their gifts are being used. I think there's also the question of which organizations are best equipped to handle the scale. And large organizations still have an advantage in many areas, many geographic areas because they do have the ability to handle the complexity and the scale and the scope of the disaster. So I still think even with the public being increasingly wary and skeptical. We also understand that there are organizations that are best positioned to tackle these very large-scale disasters.

MONTAGNE: All right then. Let's listen to another person who called in with this question.

ADAM MCDIVITT: Hi, my name is Adam McDivitt from Fayatte City, Penn. And my question was, I don't have a ton of money to donate. And I don't have time to donate. But I always feel like I want to do something else. Is there something I can do?

MONTAGNE: So that's a big one. A lot of people do want to give, but they feel they don't have a lot to give as he just said. Is there such a thing, though, as giving too little?

OSILI: Well, in my world, certainly from the research perspective, I think that everyone is a philanthropist at any level. If someone gives a small donation, say a $10 donation or even a $5 donation - if that's their capacity to give and that gift actually fits within their budget, I think that's really admirable and commendable. What I encourage donors to think about - well, can I bring a network together? Maybe it's my group of friends, whether it's pulling together financial resources, mobilizing a group of volunteers or even raising awareness around an issue. If you don't have money to give, you can bring attention and get others to give.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course, many of us have had the experience of getting on Twitter or Facebook and seeing friends posting links to where we can give money for some cause or some terrible disaster. I mean, you've looked at a lot of philanthropy data. Is all this sharing that seems to be going on now prompted Americans to actually give more?

OSILI: What we've seen is two separate trends. One is a decline in giving. In other words, Americans are less likely to give as a whole than they were, say, at the beginning of this decade. However, we have seen that when it comes to dollar amounts, those have held relatively steady over time and grown. So while there are fewer households that are giving, those that are giving have continued to be quite generous.

MONTAGNE: Una Osili is Director of Research at Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Thank you very much for joining us.

OSILI: Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.


MONTAGNE: Next week on The Call-In, stopping sexual harassment in the workplace. We want to hear from you. Has your workplace successfully dealt with sexual harassment? Have you seen your work culture change for the better? And have your own views evolved over time? Call in at 202-216-9217 with your stories and experiences. Be sure to include your full name, contact information, where you're from. And we may use it on the air. That number again - 202-216-9217.

(SOUNDBITE OF CORDUROI'S "MY DEAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
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