Put away the pepper spray. Back off the $3 waffle-maker. And join the Black Friday Resistance Army's campaign for good giving during the holiday season.
The winter holidays coincide with one of the most vital fundraising periods for nonprofits. A majority of U.S. charities receive a significant portion of their donations at the year's end – partly because the holidays are a time of reflection that inspire many people to share, and partly because donors need to make their end-of-year giving decisions by Dec. 31 to qualify for a tax deduction in that calendar year. Some charities receive as much as 90 percent of their annual donations in the last six weeks of the year. Trackers of nonprofit donations show that dollars have been down the past five years, largely due to the struggling, sputtering economy.
Yet "despite the ongoing recession, we're optimistic about this year-end giving season being at least equal to last year," says Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator. The resource offers ratings to donors who want to spend wisely and advice to nonprofits that want to operate efficiently, economically and ethically.
One of the simplest ways to give during the holiday season is to make a donation to a nonprofit in someone's name. So CN recommends that consumers planning to gift donations follow a few guidelines:
• Use a rating service to learn about an organization's financial health, accountability and purpose. The best managed nonprofits spend more on charitable endeavors and mission deeds and less on administrative costs.
• Look beyond the heartwarming stories to an organization's overall accomplishments. A tug-at-the-heart appeal from a hungry child doesn't mean an organization is the best at feeding the hungry.
• Investigate an organization's programs to guarantee the nonprofit is a philosophical, political and philanthropic match for the donor. A discriminating charity such as the Salvation Army might be highly visible and active at Christmastime, but it's not deserving of funds from or on behalf of LGBT people.
Some of Charity Navigator's top-ranked nonprofits this season include the Grameen Foundation USA, which fights poverty by providing small loans to support new entrepreneurs, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental action group seeking to defend endangered species and prevent pollution.
In Wisconsin, some of the higher-ranking groups on Charity Navigator are animal rights and animal welfare organizations, including the Wisconsin Humane Society and local affiliates.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin also ranks high with CN, as do the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which promotes the separation of church and state; the United Way of Dane County and the United Way of Greater Milwaukee; the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee; the Wisconsin Historical Foundation in Madison; the Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin in Madison; the Clean Wisconsin environmental protection group in Madison; and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.
High-ranking arts and culture groups in Wisconsin include the Wisconsin Public Radio Association in Madison; the Racine Art Museum in Racine; and the Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee Repertory and Skylight Opera theatres in Milwaukee.
Among LGBT groups on the Charity Navigator website, three of the top-rated are the Washington-based Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which campaigned against "don't ask, don't tell" and now works for equal benefits in the military; the Los Angeles-based Trevor Project, which operates a national 24-hour helpline for LGBT youth; and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, a global advocate for equality.
SAGE, the Point Foundation scholarship fund, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute, PFLAG, Gay Men's Health Crisis, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLSEN also have strong ratings.
Some other good-giving ideas:
• For the earthy, consider a donation to the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters in your gift recipient's name. Or, how about a native living tree from the Arbor Day Foundation to hang the holiday lights on, an acre of preservation land for the public trust from the Nature Conservancy, a birding app from the National Audubon Society or indoor and outdoor solar-powered lights?
• For the animal-lover, shine a light in the Wisconsin Humane Society's Hope's Lights campaign; purchase a Sea2Shore T-shirt to sponsor an endangered manatee; pledge to protect a threatened sea turtle, seal, polar bear, pelican, dolphin, penguin or shark through Oceana and get a plush animal to give; or, for free, send a holiday wish for wildlife through the National Wildlife Federation.
• For the foodie, package some state pride and samples of Wisconsin originals – beers and brats, cheeses and wines, chocolates and candies, dairy and produce; or browse from the Feeding America gift catalog and chose to feed a family of four for a month, purchase 200 holiday meals or supply a food bank with 800 pounds of produce.
• For the arts aficionado, consider tickets and subscriptions to local arts and culture venues. Some WiG favorites include Milwaukee Rep, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Renaissance Theaterworks, Milwaukee Gay Arts Center, Florentine Opera, Madison's Stage Q, the Milwaukee and Madison symphonies, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee Ballet, Skylight Opera, Barrymore, NPR and Radio Milwaukee.
• For the partisan player, know that he or she will want to make a statement in 2012. Recall Walker T-shirts are certain to be a big fashion statement next year. Also, the president's re-election campaign is selling gear from the online 2012 Obama Store – portrait T-shirts, fleece jackets, car magnets, bumper stickers, coffee mugs and even a beer can koozie. Hillary Clinton's campaign is selling the last "Team Hillary" T-shirts and "She Is the One" posters to retire a debt. Or, at no cost, stuff the stockings of newcomers to Wisconsin and twentysomethings with voter registration materials.
• For the global-minded, donors to the International Rescue Committee can send a child to school for a year, create safe spaces for kids in the wake of disaster or supply a family with a goat. Donors receive holiday cards and an organic threads "Rescue" T-shirt. "When floods and other natural disasters strike vulnerable areas of the world, little or nothing is left standing," says Farah Kathwari of Generation Rescue, a group of young professionals who volunteer for IRC. "Entire villages … are swept away literally overnight. But just as quickly, a single household asset … can offer a new beginning."
• For the community-minded, shop local and buy local. Patronize local boutiques and restaurants, galleries and shops, particularly those with progressive inclinations. How? One approach is to look for WiG advertisers, another is to look for a rainbow sticker in the shop window.
• And, for consumers who must shop the big-box stores, WiG suggests downloading Buying for Workplace Equality from the Human Rights Campaign website. HRC rates retailers so that consumers have an idea which are naughty and which are nice in their treatment of LGBT employees.