If the red and green decorated retail stores, the Christmas-themed movie marathons and the ever-present holiday music piped in at every store in town hasn't cued you in yet, then let me say it straight out - the holiday season is upon us.
Many people I know were hoping the month of October would miraculously continue on for another 30 or so days, postponing the inevitable end-of-year holiday celebrations. No such luck.
It's time once again to deck the halls, put out the fine china and shop, shop, shop. Making sure everything is ready for each family get together and office party can be daunting, especially if your budget has taken a hit due to the recession.
Before you decide whether or not to replace your holiday dinnerware this year, take a minute to remember the other important activity of the season - giving.
On Tuesday, hundreds gathered for a Turlock holiday tradition - the Salvation Army Kettle Kick Off Luncheon. The Salvation Army plays an important role in Turlock, providing families in need with food, after-school activities for children, spiritual ministry, and housing a variety of other social services programs at its Lander Avenue facility. The community recognizes and supports the nonprofit's work with the fundraising event each November.
The Salvation Army and its bell-ringing soldiers is just one organization seeking funding this time of year. Turlock Together is collecting money, nonperishable food items and new toys in an effort to make Christmas just a little bit brighter for 2,000 local families.
Westside Ministries is collecting coats and jackets to keep local kids warm this winter season and Paramount Court Senior Living is looking for new suitcases and backpacks for foster kids.
United Samaritans, We Care Cold Weather Shelter and the Turlock Gospel Mission are continuously soliciting funds to keep serving the marginalized and homeless this holiday season - and year round.
Giving to charity at the holiday season is a tradition that many families pass on through the generations. Before you reach for your pocketbook, take a minute to make sure you are giving smartly.
According to Charity Navigator, the majority of donations to charities are given in November and December because the year-end holidays are a time of religious and moral reflection that inspire many people to reach out to those who are less fortunate. Less altruistically, but still just as important, donors need to make their end-of-year giving decisions by Dec. 31 to qualify for a tax deduction in this calendar year. Knowing that, charities increase their solicitations and an increase in charitable giving occurs between Thanksgiving and New Years.
Charity Navigator offers the following guidelines to ensure your holiday contributions are well-spent:
• Research each charity: It is important to seek out fiscally responsible charities as they are more efficient with donations and have greater flexibility to pursue their goals. And charities that follow good governance and transparency practices are less likely to engage in unethical or irresponsible activities. So, the risk that such charities would misuse donations is lower than for charities that don't adopt such practices.
• Dig beyond storytelling to look for evidence of results: Heartwarming stories often motivate donors to give. But smart donors look beyond inspirational anecdotes and seek out evidence of the overall results of a charity's work. You can learn about a charity's results by reviewing its website and/or talking with staff. They should be able to tell you more than just the number of activities or people served and speak to the quality and depth of their results (for example, not just whether someone got a job but for how long) as well as their capacity to continue to get these results. This is critical step, after all, the charity's ability to bring about long lasting and meaningful change in the world should be the key reason for your donation.
• Check the charity's programs to ensure its efforts truly match your philanthropic passions: There are a lot of misconceptions among donors about the programs and services that their donations fund. For example, a donor might want to help fund a cure for cancer. The donor selects and funds a charity and then is dismayed to find out that the charity's programs have nothing to do with research for a cure, but are instead focused on advocating for legislation to pay for patient's care. This common mistake is easily remedied by doing a little bit of research before writing that check. To ensure that the charity's work is aligned with your philanthropic interests, visit the charity's website, check its Form 990 or call their office to learn about their primary programs and services.
• Skip the gala and write a check: Special events, such as galas and golf outings, are notoriously inefficient ways to raise money for a charity. Not only are these events outright costly (invitations, catering, entertainment and so on), but planning a fancy ball often diverts staff time away from the charity's mission. So if you really want to help fund a charity's operations, then stay home, reheat your leftovers and write a big check directly to the charity.
For more information, visit charitynavigator.org.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.