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Donate Local


Donate Local

By Sherrie Owens

Now that the political mailers and phone calls have ceased we are about to be inundated with the end of the year donation requests.  In the same spirit of shopping local and keeping the money in our community, you may also want to donate locally.

Beware of phone calls wanting you to support a cause (which you may believe in) but the money goes to an unknown organization.  You don’t know from a phone call how your money will be used and telemarketing companies are often paid 90% of the amounts received.  Further, the organization that you are donating to may be in another part of the country and none of your donation will help people in your community.  

People often think they are making a “tax deductible” donation, without realizing that they won’t actually be able to use the deduction.  You must file itemize deductions on a Form 1040 Schedule A to benefit from donations.  Only donations to “qualified” organizations are deductible; contributions to individuals, political organizations and candidates are not tax deductible.  Neither are raffle tickets, or the portion of a fundraising activity that provides you a benefit.  This is a conversation to have with your CPA.

To be qualified for tax exempt status by IRS code 501©(3) the organization must  have one of the following purposes:  charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals. You can go on the IRS website and search for the organization’s name and tax ID#.  There are also websites such as GuideStar and Charity Navigator that will provide free access to the organization’s annual IRS reports.  Some things to look for in those reports are administrative and fundraising costs, top executive salaries, payments to consultants, and the number of clients and services provided.  

Some organizations operate as quasi-franchises of bigger not for profit entities.  For example the Sonoma Humane Society is not directly related to the Humane Society of the United States.  The local Humane Society isn’t supported by the national organization, and each has their own tax exempt IRS ID.  The national organizations often serve as coordinators when there is a large disaster, and they may be involved in areas of research and development.  However, if you want to help dogs in your own community – donate locally.

Another example of national and local causes is Planned Parenthood.  There are some important issues that may result from the current presidential election.  If your priority is supporting the lobbying and policy efforts for the health rights of women, you should support the national organizations.  However, if you want to make sure that teens and disadvantaged women in Sonoma County have access to birth control you can donate to local health clinics.

You may be interested in gifting or contributing to a person, political organization, or cause without caring about the tax deduction (good for you).  This is a time of year to be grateful for what we have, and for sharing with others who are less fortunate.  It is tempting to give cash to individuals with signs at the intersections but your good intentions may be scammed.  I witnessed a man in a wheelchair at an intersection get out of the chair and someone else with a sign took his place.   Another time I was approached in front of a super store by a woman with a baby in her arms asking for money for diapers.  When I handed her some cash she accidentally dropped the baby, which turned out to be a doll!  The advantage of donating to local food banks, homelessness, and housing assistance agencies is that they provide food and meals, shelter, and often drug and alcohol counseling to many people.  They are instrumental in changing the cycle of substance abuse not subsidizing it.  These agencies have compassionate, nonjudgmental staff that have experience helping people in difficult times.  You can also volunteer and see first hand how your donation is used.  

Donating can be a family tradition.  At Christmas dinner ask each person what they are grateful for.  Then ask about causes and organizations they believe in, and why.  This is a great opportunity to teach children about bounty and sharing.  There is no shortage of worthy organizations in our area.  The old saying about better to give than receive will have added meaning.  


Sherrie Owens has worked as a Chief Financial Officer for many different nonprofit organizations for over 30 years.  She is a former SRJC instructor of Governmental and Non-Profit Accounting.  Sherrie recently retired and sold her business, Almost Home Doggie Day Care in north Sebastopol.