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Aug 15, 2015

How To Assess The Efficiency Of Your Charitable Gifts

Sponsored Content provided by Chris Nelson - President, United Way of the Cape Fear Area

We all seem to be inundated with requests from charitable organizations. Some are national, some are international, and some are local. Some we have never even heard of before. Most people are generous by nature and truly want to help others in need, but where do you start?

  • First, find a charity that provides services that are clearly consistent with your passion. If you do nothing else, support your passion (but not blindly).
  • Second, do some research about the organization. Look to a service such as GuideStar to review the organization’s Form 990 and other financials (if you can’t find one, it’s not a good sign). Then ask some questions: Is the organization local? Does it provide services to local residents or at least to the group of people that you wish to support? Does the charity have a track record illustrating success? How much of your charitable investment actually goes to direct services?
  • Third, can the organization demonstrate legitimate and appropriate outcomes? It should not be a case of how MANY people or families they serve, but rather WHAT they are doing to change and improve those people’s lives. Are they creating sustainable change or enabling a state of need?
  • Fourth, do the services being provided meet a specific, documented need in our community? Are other nonprofits providing similar or the same service? If so, determine why this one is a better choice for your charitable investment.
We are very fortunate to have the quality of charitable organizations that we do here in the Cape Fear area. I have said many times that I would match the quality of CFA nonprofits as a group with any nonprofits in cities, larger and smaller, that I have lived. On the other hand, I have also heard people say that we have an unusually large number of nonprofits or “more than our share” here. This is not the case. As a study conducted by UNCW several years ago determined, our region actually has a “lower than average” number of nonprofits. Just concluding that there are just too many choices is not a legitimate reason for not making an investment.
To make an investment in numerous programs with a single contribution, consider the best, time-tested method by investing in the United Way of the Cape Fear Area Community Impact Fund. This fund invests in local evidence-based programs that address specific community needs and issues identified by residents in the Cape Fear area. These programs generally fall into broad impact areas of improving family financial stability, access to health care, and education. All of the Community Impact investments in these programs are determined by local volunteers who spend a total of 300 hours each spring reviewing and selecting the very best proposals from the community that also show the best outcomes and most efficient practices. Investment commitments made through Community Impact are for a three-year period, during which quarterly outcome reports are submitted and annual financials are reviewed by United Way. This system allows for consistent monitoring of partners’ performances by United Way and assures that the investments are providing the intended results.
The Community Impact Fund is the most meaningful way of investing in your community. This process provides you the opportunity to have the greatest impact with your community investment, as your investment is matched by other investments from more than 6,000 area residents and numerous companies.  
To learn more about the United Way of the Cape Fear Area Community Impact Fund and investment process, please read this Insights article. You also can log on to to review the quarterly outcome reports.
Christopher L. Nelson is president of the United Way of the Cape Fear Area, a local nonprofit organization. Since 1941, the United Way of the Cape Fear Area has worked alongside local agencies in Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender counties to assist them in providing substantial and sustainable change within the Cape Fear area. To learn more about the United Way of the Cape Fear Region, go to or call 910-798-3900.

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