Archived Story

Donating locally is as important as shopping locally

Published 11:00am Tuesday, March 18, 2014

On the phone. In the mail. In person. Or online.

The opportunities to give to charities are at every turn.

How should people choose where to give and how can they ensure their donation will support a local cause?

Ann Austin, executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County, said people may have many motivations for donating to a charity.

For some people, Austin said, they have given to charities in the past simply because they have felt good about doing it.

“They feel like they want to invest back in the community,” she said.

Lance Skov, with Albert Lea accounting firm Hill, Larson, Walth & Benda, said people should donate to groups they are passionate about and have a connection with.

Austin echoed his sentiments.

“I think it’s important to participate in the organizations that have impacted you in your life,” she said.

People, she said, should research nonprofits and even consider volunteering at them before giving monetarily.

Albert Lean Jan Jerdee said she likes her money to stay as local as possible, so she feels more comfortable donating to an organization she knows well.

“You like to know how your money is getting used,” she said. “Otherwise, I could just drive down the road and throw my money out the window and hope that a kid who needs it finds it.”

She said a majority of the nonprofits she gives to have impacted her or someone she knows.

Austin said people can look at how much of an organization’s donations support administrative costs versus program costs. They can also look at how the nonprofit raises its money.

When someone donates to the United Way, for example, 87 percent goes to support programs, while 5 percent goes to management, 6 percent goes to fundraising, 1 percent is designated to other counties and 1 percent goes to the United Way Worldwide, she said.

United Way leaders have from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31 each year to collect funds. They do so through a workplace campaign, mailers and community outreach and fundraisers.

“We’re looking into new ways of engaging people, especially the younger audience,” Austin said.

The organization has an agreement with its partner agencies — what is called a blackout period — where the agencies are asked not to fundraise on their own from Sept. 1 through Nov. 15. The idea behind the blackout period, Austin said, is to allow the community to focus its donation efforts on the United Way.

The organization used to be known in several areas across the country as Community Chest because it acts as an agent to collect money from local businesses and workers and then distributes those funds to community projects.

After the annual fundraising campaign is complete, a committee of community members allocates the United Way donations. This year, 16 nonprofits, focusing on the areas of education, income and health will receive funding.

Austin said how much is given to the agencies depends each year on their request for funding, combined with the community’s needs and how much was raised.

One of those agencies is the Albert Lea Salvation Army, which in 2014 will receive $65,000 from the United Way.

Salvation Army Capt. Jim Brickson said his organization has a total budget this year of about $1.1 million. Of that, about 13 percent goes toward administration.

What do charities do when there are gaps in funding?

Brickson said sometimes he has to be creative in how he approaches his programs because the need for the services remains despite the gaps.

He said the Salvation Army has benefited greatly through volunteers.

“I don’t think we always have to be standing there with our hands out saying, ‘Can you fill the bucket again?’”

Austin said at some point, though, the community needs to reassess what its nonprofits are doing in the community.

“There are so many ways we can solve problems collectively without having to raise funds,” she said.