Philanthropy 101

Ready to open your wallet? Laurel Lyle, vice president of development operations and fundraising programs for Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, offers insider tips for budding benefactors.

THINK BEYOND THE HOLIDAYS: Sure, it feels good to lend a helping hand during the giving season (and accrue some last-minute tax write-offs, of course). But “95 percent of people donate in the last two months of the year, which is a big strain on a charity,” Lyle says. Contributing to your favorite nonprofits early and often helps them budget for and manage program expenses throughout the year.

MAKE IT PERSONAL: With more than one million registered charities in the U.S., how does a do-gooder narrow things down? As with almost everything in life, it helps to follow your heart. “Think hard about what’s important to you,” Lyle advises. “Is there a disease or an issue that has particularly affected someone close to you in either a negative or a positive way?”

DO YOUR HOMEWORK: You want your donation to fund a cause, not an executive’s kitchen remodel. That’s why it’s essential to know exactly how an organization spends its cash before you write that generous check. Top-tier charities, Lyle explains, keep their administrative expenses under 25 percent, with 75 percent going to the programs they support (charity has the scoop). “That’s the
threshold,” she says.

GIVE A LOT… OR A LITTLE: Feeling sheepish about the 25 bucks you gave in exchange for those personalized return-address labels? Don’t. “Every little bit helps. If Cure Alzheimer’s Fund added up all of the individual $25 gifts we got last year, they total $40,000,” Lyle says.