Before You Give

By Ruth Lando & Susie Bowie September 1, 2010

We all have to make hard choices—both financial and personal—about where to invest our precious charitable resources. While our decisions are certainly informed by our life experiences, family priorities and personal passions, several considerations remain paramount.

At the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, our No. 1 goal is helping donors take care of themselves and their families first—then fulfilling their charitable aspirations with customized, flexible options. With 770 individual funds representing diverse charitable interests and more than 30 years of experience as a community foundation, we’ve learned what’s important to donors and what a wise investment in a healthy nonprofit looks like.

Whether you’re considering leaving a planned gift to an organization in your estate or will or bestowing a current gift, you can gauge the probable impact of your charitable investment by asking these 10 questions.

1. Are you passionate about the mission? Every nonprofit should be able to clearly articulate what its mission is and what the community would look like without it. If it can’t do that, why would you want to support it? And if you’re not charged up about its mission, look for another organization, one that excites and deserves your personal support.

2. Does the organization have 501(c)(3) status with the Internal Revenue Service? Don’t be afraid to verify the legitimacy of an agency in the eyes of the IRS. The 501(c)(3) designation lets you know the organization answers to the public, has a charitable purpose and provides tax incentives to donors. Find out through a search on or by calling the Community Foundation of Sarasota County at (941) 955-3000. 

3.Has turnover been excessive over the last few years? Repeated turnover of executive and board leadership can indicate trouble below the surface. If turnover is prevalent, ask why. You should get a satisfactory answer if there’s a legitimate reason.

4. Does the organization make financial information readily available online or by request? In the aftermath of the Enron years, transparency remains a critical consideration. Remember: Nonprofits are accountable to the public, and budgets and current financial statements should be no secret. Scrutinize as much as you would for any investment.

5. Are there similar organizations in the community, and if so, how is this nonprofit different? Sarasota County boasts nearly 1,000 active nonprofits. Inevitably, many are duplicating services. Sometimes organizations that do not receive much visibility are quietly doing innovative work no one else has tackled. The Community Foundation of Sarasota County can help you find them.

6. What has the organization achieved over the last year, and what are its long-term goals? Find out who the target audience is, who has been helped and what services have been delivered, with specific numbers to back up the information. A good organization has a vision of what the community will look like if it accomplishes its mission and what benchmarks must be reached along the way. Look for clear definitions of purpose and success. 

7. Will my contribution make a difference? Knowing what gifts are used for is a top concern for most donors. If you designate a specific project for funding, how and why will it make a difference? Ask what reporting systems are in place to keep you abreast of progress. Keep in mind there is nothing wrong with a contribution to general operating or administrative expenses—these are real costs that healthy organizations incur. Specifying the designation upfront is your right. This is a particular strength of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s mission—ensuring that donor intent is kept paramount in every grant or scholarship opportunity, whether during the donor’s life or after donors are gone.

8. May I see your Donor’s Bill of Rights? The Donor’s Bill of Rights is a universally known document establishing an ethical relationship between nonprofits and their donors. If the charity doesn’t know what this is, you might consider looking elsewhere for your philanthropy.

9. Is there 100 percent participation from the board in giving? All nonprofit organizations are governed by a volunteer board of directors who have legal and fiduciary duties. In addition to helping to raise funds and friends for the organization, each and every board member should be financially contributing to the cause. If they’re not, why should you?

10. Is there a commitment to professional develop-ment of staff and board? Staying on top of trends and best practices ensures the organization is operating efficiently and effectively. In addition to training through local professional associations, online training options and other venues, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County has a unique resource in the Nonprofit Resource Center. Each year, the NRC provides free or affordable services to more than 2,000 local nonprofit staff and board members from more than 600 local agencies. Investing in the strength, stability and success of nonprofits is one way we reinforce the impact of our donors’ charitable investments.


A reputable charity not only answers the questions outlined above, but appreciates them, too. When charities accept your money or propose inclusion in your estate, they’re entering into a very personal partnership with you. This alliance is based on the values of trust, transparency and open exchange, and form the bedrock of an important relationship.

We’re here to help. For more information about the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and our Nonprofit Resource Center, call (941) 955-3000 or visit us online at n

The Community Foundation of Sarasota County is a public charity founded in 1979 by the Southwest Florida Estate Planning Council as a bridge between caring individuals and the causes they support, enabling them to make a charitable impact on the community that is For Good. For Ever.® The Nonprofit Resource Center of the Community Foundation is the resource nonprofit organizations trust to provide services, training and consultation that enable them to fulfill their missions.


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