Rethinking How We Support Our Local Charities

Back Commentary Jan 4, 2016 By Winnie Comstock-Carlson

As we flip the calendar pages to start a new year, the sights and sounds of the year just past barely linger.  The familiar jingle of Salvation Army bells, a holiday tradition, are now silent. The lines of people have dwindled at service agencies after thousands of families have been fed and clothed.

People traditionally open their hearts and wallets during the holiday season. It’s estimated that 31 percent of all charitable donations are made in December, motivated by altruistic generosity or tax incentives.

For many companies, the post-holiday season often marks a return to business. But it’s not the time to forget about the nonprofit organizations that are so important to our community. They need our attention beyond the holidays and throughout the year.

#GivingTuesday, a national campaign that raises funds for nonprofits, now raises $50 million a year, a total that increases in double digits each year. Sacramento’s Big Day of Giving, traditionally in May, reflects the same level of generosity of our community. Last year, it raised $5.6 million from more than 36,000 donors, which was shared by 529 local non-profits. That represents a $2 million increase in funds and triple the number of donors from the year before.

But the business community has more to offer than money. Many non-profits, run by volunteers, need the leadership and management skills of the C-suite on their boards of directors. Employees can learn mentorship skills during a day of volunteering. Others can help to manage money, keep the books or write grant proposals.       

I’d love to hear from you what you feel are some innovative philanthropic efforts. Here are a few new ideas for charitable giving that I’ve recently learned of:

The nonprofit 100+ Women Who Care, new to Sacramento, asks members to commit to a $100 donation quarterly. Four times each year, the organization selects three nonprofits to pitch their stories (and needs) to the group. A winner is selected, and each member writes a $100 check to the organization that very evening.

On the Big Day of Giving, Golden 1 challenged their members to donate using their Golden 1 credit or debit cards. The credit union matched those donations up to $50,000. But in May 2015, their members donated over $490,000, and Golden 1 increased its matching dollars to $103,000 for a grand total of $594,053. Hats off to you, Golden 1, and to your generous members.

The Sacramento Region Community Foundation has had several companies donate unusual assets to foster charitable giving. For example, one large fund was established by the sale of industrial property donated to open the fund. Developers are doing this with mitigation funds. Also, my friends at Amazing Facts in Rocklin have received countless unusual gifts as donations — a piano, jewelry, homes/land, stock, even an entire business once.

A tactic that some residential real estate companies have adopted is to ask their agents to designate a small amount or percentage of their commissions to the agency’s philanthropic fund. Then grants are made to nonprofits that are aligned with the company’s philanthropic strategy. These programs have proven to be a great source of positive morale and PR.

It is difficult to measure the economic impact of nonprofit service organizations. Experts have tried. But nonprofits in the Sacramento region are a diverse group and the needs they fill are measured in more than dollars. Business consultants talk about prizing “human capital” — a way of telling corporations that their people are their biggest asset. It is just as true for the community as a whole.

Taking a leadership role in orchestrating something special to raise funds that help others is so gratifying. If you can come up with a unique idea, we’d love to hear about it. You could even become a local champion for your community.


Kim Tucker (not verified)January 5, 2016 - 6:57am

Excellent article that reminds us there are creative ways for nonprofits and businesses to partner. Thank you, Winnie.

Shirlee Tully (not verified)January 5, 2016 - 11:44am

Thanks for keeping the focus on supporting our local nonprofits - all year long. Although it would be difficult to measure the impact of nonprofits in terms of social capital, the California Association of Nonprofit's 2014 "Causes Count" study tallies total revenue generated by nonprofits in the Sacramento Region at $7.4 billion.

Adele Ohs (not verified)January 7, 2016 - 1:08am

Thanks for this article focusing on the many ways this community supports non-profit organizations. It's amazing to live in a region that so values philanthropy.