So many ways to give

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November 26, 2013 // UPDATED 8:36 pm - December 2, 2013
By: Jen Larson Roesler
Jen Larson Roesler
Our 2013 Charitable Giving Guide

There’s no doubt about it: Minnesotans are a generous bunch. In fact, we just outdid ourselves in giving yet again. This year’s Give to the Max Day on Nov. 14, a 24-hour online fundraising marathon to benefit a variety of schools and charities, topped last year’s record-breaking $16.3 million given with 52,000 Minnesotans donating a total of $17.1 million.

As any nonprofit organization will attest, donations of money to keep the lights on and programs running are absolutely critical. Gifts don’t have to be made up of big figures to make a big impact, either; it’s true that every little bit helps. Yet there are also many ways to help organizations accomplish their missions that go beyond writing a check, plus ways the whole family can get involved in giving.

This year’s Charitable Giving Guide highlights outside-the-box examples of how you can make a difference in your community, from creative ways to make financial gifts to giving of your time, talent and other kinds of treasure. 

As we approach the holiday season and the close of another year, it’s a natural time to be thankful for the good fortune we’ve enjoyed and consider how we can give back to our communities and help others to survive and thrive. With so many ways to give, the only challenge will be deciding what you’d like to do first to help make our neighborhoods and community better places to be.

Turn dollars into doing

While GiveMN’s Give to the Max Day makes a big splash each November, the collaboration, launched by the Minnesota Community Foundation, is a year-round destination connecting people who want to give with schools and charitable organizations seeking support. 

The website (www.givemn.org) makes it easy to browse causes and securely make a tax-deductible gift. It’s also interesting to see which causes are most popular each week; recent examples included the America Red Cross Philippines Typhoon relief effort, support for the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians, and the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota.

Click “Donate” at the top of the homepage to search organizations by category, from animals, to arts, to environmental causes, to international aid, to science, to faith-based groups…and the list goes on and on.

If you’d like to try your hand at fundraising for a cause close to your heart, the site also allows users to set up a fundraising campaign for a school or other approved nonprofit organization; choose “Fundraise” from the homepage.

Finally, if you’d like to put your giving on autopilot, you can set up a recurring gift to a cause of your choice on a weekly, monthly or annual basis. When it comes to giving, it doesn’t get much easier than this. 

Host a food drive

‘Tis the season of countless holiday cookies, big family dinners, endless party appetizers and food-filled pot lucks — yet Minnesotan children, adults and seniors miss 100 million meals each year. Second Harvest Heartland notes that means going to bed hungry, three nights a week.

If that thought chills you, mobilize a group of friends or coworkers and host your own Food Drive for an organization like Second Harvest Heartland, which collected and distributed more than 76 million pounds of food last year.

To get your drive off the ground, Second Harvest will provide everything you need to succeed, from promotional posters to collection barrels to talking points and even a progress thermometer to keep track of your drive’s goals and keep participants motivated.

A great idea for offices, faith-based groups, clubs, or as a way to add a charitable element to a social event, Food & Fund Drives make giving as simple as dropping canned goods into a container. Canned protein such as tuna, beans and peanut butter are in high demand, as are canned fruits and vegetables and grains like rice and cereal. Personal hygiene and cleaning supplies are also welcome. Financial contributions are an especially efficient way to fight hunger; for every dollar given, Second Harvest can distribute nearly four meals.

Contributors to your drive can feel good knowing their donations will make their way to local food shelves, senior centers, after-school programs and organizations serving the hungry and homeless. No one should go hungry; when you host or contribute to a Food Drive, the people, children and families you help feed just might be your very own friends and neighbors. 

Run, walk or roll for a cause

If you’re looking for a way to benefit your community and find the motivation to move more in the New Year, signing up for a sporting event in support of a charity could be just the ticket to getting off the couch for a cause.

Events range from walks and runs of varying lengths to cycling or even triathlon events. You can usually sign up as an individual or a team, and race entry fees (sometimes in addition to pledges collected by participants) go to support and raise awareness for causes ranging from disease research to disability awareness to early childhood education and more. 

No matter what your fitness level is or how competitive (or silly) you’d like to get on race day, there’s an event for you. From the Colon Cancer Coalition’s Get Your Rear in Gear 5K walk/run and kids’ fun run, to the classic MS 150 bike race, to the epic Susan G. Komen 3-Day walk to support breast cancer research, to the Cupid’s Undie Run to fundraise for the Children’s Tumor Foundation (and put the “hilarity in charity”, as the event website promises), events are happening nearly every month of the year. The local website minneapolisrunning.com maintains a great calendar of events; staff at local run shops like Marathon Sports and Gear are also good sources of charity-run information.

To help you get in shape, download an app like the popular Couch-to-5K (iTunes) to safely ramp up your endurance. When race day comes, you can feel great knowing you’re getting the benefits of exercise — and benefiting a cause that matters to you.

De-clutter and do good 

Is “Get Organized” at the top of your New Year’s resolutions list? If so, you might be more motivated to de-clutter your closets knowing that your castoffs can help provide essential programs for people in need.

The Arc, which serves people with developmental disabilities and their families, is a standout in the charity thrift-store landscape. From sweaters to cookbooks to coffee mugs, your gently used treasures are gathered, tagged and sold at one of the four Arc’s Value Village thrift shop locations. Donating items not only benefits the Arc’s programs; it’s smart recycling, too, since more than 3 million items and 3 million pounds of material are reused and recycled annually through the Arc’s efforts.

If shopping for charity is more your speed, Arc’s Value Villages are a treasure-hunter’s heaven. When you stop in to browse, you never know what you’ll find; career clothing, kitchen items, vinyl records and children’s books…it’s the thrill of garage-sale-hopping all under one roof, all year ‘round. My only challenge is usually bringing home less “must-haves” than I just dropped off on my donation trips.

Giving is as easy as going to a drive-through; seven days a week, helpful staff at each of the Arc’s locations will unload your donations and give you a receipt for tax deductions. You may have also seen the Arc’s blue donation bins located around town, where you can conveniently drop off bagged clothing. Many charity thrift shops also pick up donations; watch your mailbox for postcard flyers advertising pick-up opportunities.

Winter is the perfect time to clean out the kitchen cupboards and evaluate whether you’re really wearing everything in your wardrobe. Even kids can get in on giving away clothes that no longer fit or whittling down their toy collections after the holidays. Be aware that not all organizations accept all items; large appliances, some electronics and car seats are some things commonly not accepted. Check www.arcsvaluevillage.org/donate for more info and let the de-cluttering begin.

Share your talents 

If you think you don’t have the time to volunteer or any talents worth sharing, think again — whether you want to take up an ongoing volunteer position or get a group together for a one-time event, you can find the right opportunity for you at VolunteerMatch (www.volunteermatch.org).

I must admit that in researching this story, I expected to find a variety of ways to volunteer; I was unprepared for (and pleasantly surprised by) the sheer number and variety of volunteer opportunities available in Minneapolis alone.

Start your search at volunteermatch.org with your location, then explore the Cause Areas you care about, from working with Seniors, to Education & Literacy, to programs that help Animals, support Human Rights, and much more. Within each of these categories are hundreds of ways you can help make a difference in your community. Some opportunities are even virtual, which you can accomplish from your computer at home or on the road if you travel frequently for work.

Are you an expert snowboarder? Help people with disabilities learn the sport through the Adaptive Recreation & Learning Exchange (AR&LE). Do you enjoy planning menus and cooking up a storm? Get a few friends together to make dinner for the children and families staying at the Ronald McDonald House at Children’s Hospital. Love DIY decorating TV shows? Turn a couple of rooms into cool study spaces at Simpson Housing Services. Are you a musician without a stage? Play music to comfort hospice patients. Have a passion for knitting? Join the senior ladies at Rakhma Homes for craft time. See what I mean? Not only do the postings sound worthwhile, they sound positively fun. Just looking through the various opportunities will open your eyes to all the good work being done in our community — and inspire you to get involved.

From one-time opportunities to recurring commitments, whether you can speak Spanish, fix cars, update computer software, rake leaves or provide a loving foster home for a cat, there’s a way for you to help. No matter what you like to do, VolunteerMatch will have a posting for you. 

Work for the greater good

Making a difference doesn’t have to be something that just happens in your spare time; Minnesota’s thriving nonprofit sector means that you can make the world a better place while you make a living. Forbes magazine recently reported that making a difference through their careers is of high importance to the millennial generation now entering the workforce; yet working for a cause is something that can reinvigorate the passion of people at any stage in their professional development.

If you’re in the market for a new job, consider working for a nonprofit organization. Contrary to what you might think, “nonprofit” doesn’t mean non-revenue-generating; most nonprofits offer employees competitive compensation and benefits. Many of the job titles and skill sets needed are ones you’d recognize from the corporate world, and previous business experience is usually very welcome in the nonprofit arena. Just as in for-profit businesses, professionals like web designers, administrative coordinators, property managers, teachers, database administrators and more are needed to help organizations achieve their missions and serve their target populations.

Explore open positions on the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits’ extensive Nonprofit Job Board (www.minnesotanonprofits.org/jobs) or find arts-focused postings at Springboard for the Arts (www.springboardforthearts.org/jobs). Your next job could give you the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping others along with earning a paycheck. 

Leave a legacy 

If you’d like to support a special cause but don’t have the resources to make a significant financial gift at this point in your life, planned giving can be a way to take care of organizations that matter to you even after you’re gone.

Planned giving refers to gifts made to nonprofit organizations through donors’ wills or estate planning. They can include cash, stock, real estate or the proceeds from making an organization a beneficiary of life insurance policies or retirement plans. A second type of planned giving, charitable gift annuities, enable donors to transfer cash or property to an organization and receive income the investment during his or her lifetime. A tax professional can offer you advice on the different types of planned giving and the tax benefits associated with each. 

“Even if you aren’t in a position to make a financial gift to an organization today, planned giving is a great way to ensure that your legacy helps people benefit well into the future,” says Jennifer McGee, Donor Engagement Director for the National MS Society, Upper Midwest Chapter.

Whether you’d like to ensure that research for a multiple sclerosis cure moves forward (nationalmssociety.org/chapters/MNM/index.aspx), or that Minnesota Public Radio stays on the airwaves (mpr.org), or that our past is preserved through the Minnesota Historical Society (mnhs-legacy.org), planned giving enables you to make a lasting difference in our community.

Serve on a Board of Directors 

Boards of Directors are like the navigators who help steer a nonprofit organization’s course. A unique way to volunteer your time and talents, serving on a Board of Directors can provide you with the opportunity to shape an organization’s future, build your skills and boost your resume, as well as connect you with like-minded community members.

Skill sets in high demand for nonprofit Board members include fundraising, grant writing, marketing, social media, accounting and more. Time commitment varies by organization; before joining a Board, make sure you understand the organization’s mission, population served, financial status, Board structure and what your responsibilities will be.

In addition to building relationships and networking, serving on a Board of Directors can also add value to your professional resume. Potential employers will see that not only do you value community service, but that you have skills that are in demand — skills which could benefit the employer’s company as well.

To find open Board of Director positions, start by letting nonprofit groups or organizations you’re involved with know you’re interested in taking on a leadership role. Some Board positions are filled by election, such as at local food co-ops. Others are filled by application, while others are invitation-only. You can also search for volunteer Board Member postings on the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Job Board (minnesotanonprofits.org/jobs) or at VolunteerMatch (www.volunteermatch.org).

You just might find a position that will allow you to use your skills and experience to help an organization you care about run more efficiently, effectively, and be better able to do good work in your community.

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Where to go to give

Check out these resources for guidance on charitable giving, volunteer opportunities and more: 

— Charities Review Council: www.smartgivers.org

— GuideStar: www.guidestar.org

— Minnesota Council on Nonprofits Job Board: www.minnesotanonprofits.org/jobs

— Volunteer Match: www.volunteermatch.org

— GiveMN: www.givemn.org