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Beyond its award-winning beaches and abundant cultural attractions, Sarasota County has one more claim to fame. It’s overflowing with nonprofit organizations—2,154 of them, according to the Florida Nonprofit Alliance—making it among the top two or three counties in the entire U.S. for the number of nonprofits per capita. 

Bob Carter

That’s from Bob Carter, chairman of Sarasota-based Carter, whose 30-member team of consultants advises some four dozen nonprofits each year around the world on strategic planning, governance and fund-raising campaigns—everything from the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s recent $8 million Heart & Soul campaign to World Vision U.S.’s current $1 billion Every Last One campaign to eradicate extreme poverty across the globe.

That Sarasota ranks so high is a dubious honor, he points out, because there’s so much duplication of missions and programs here, and such heavy competition for philanthropic dollars.

So, with more than 2,100 choices—not to mention the 1,368 nonprofits in neighboring Manatee County—what’s a newcomer to our area, or a recent retiree with time on his hands, or a professional who wants to burnish her C.V. to do when they want to apply their knowledge, skills and dollars to help a local nonprofit?

“Giving is 90 percent emotional and 10 percent rational,” says Carter, who is chair-emeritus of the Association of Fund-Raising Professionals international board of directors. But there are measurements to guide you.

“No. 1, you have to believe in the cause,” he says. “Then it’s really important to validate that cause, the fact that they’re carrying out their mission. I encourage people to look for the impact: how many people’s lives are being impacted by this organization. Look at annual reports, talk to people who are already giving and to the people who are running the program. Are they doing everything they can to maximize their resources? Monitor it as you’re investing in the organization. Charity Navigator and GuideStar are good [online] sources for this type of information. [The Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s Giving Partner, givingpartner.org, also has a range of information about some 800 area nonprofits.]

“Look for transparency of programming. Does the organization share its outcomes, good and bad? There will be failures, there will be difficulties, but when organizations are honest about them, that develops trust over time. And you have to trust somebody with any organization.

“Look at the members of the board, and the board giving overall. Make sure 100 percent are giving. What does the board look like? Is the organization intentionally seeking more diverse board members? And in an ideal world, the organization will have a rotating board, where people cycle off; fresh blood is good.

“Is the organization effectively using its volunteers? The more people have ownership of an organization in the community, the more good the organization can do. Giving increases as people get engaged and involved; they give 70 percent more [than someone with a peripheral relationship to the organization].”

When you consider all these issues, Carter says, “You’re going to end up making really good choices.”

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