Five Tips for Giving Locally

Author Trina Middleton, Director, Premier Donor Services 

September 30, 2021

With such a torrent of daily challenges around the world—and the constant deluge of new information about them coming to us through our phones—it can sometimes feel like solutions for complex, global problems are out of reach. But thinking about what you can do often helps reorient your outlook. “Think globally, act locally” might not have any better application than charitable giving.  

Philanthropic support for smaller, local nonprofits can make a decisive difference. By a recent count, 76% of all public charities in the United States operate with annual revenues under $100,000, and all but 8% with revenues under $1 million. These highly focused groups provide critical support and essential services across all charitable subsectors. Many believe that dollars donated to small and local organizations “go further.” One thing is for sure: when you commit philanthropic resources to smaller, local groups, you can’t help but see the difference they make in your community.  

In order to commit to giving where you live, you have to find the right organizations. You may feel like you know nearly all the charitable work going on in your town or city. But there’s almost always more going on than meets the eye. With so many “small but mighty” nonprofits at work and new ones founded all the time, there’s no shortage of organizations near you doing important work. We’ve assembled a list of five ways to connect with and explore support for local nonprofits. 

1. Look Around You 

With so many options for charitable support available, where to start your search? Odd as it may sound, it’s the efforts closest to you that may slip under the radar. Verified online sources like GuideStarGreat Nonprofits and Idealist are a few online entry points offering search tools, ratings systems and testimonials on the impact and missions of local nonprofits. You can search by ZIP code, issue area and other criteria.   

But the best tools might not be virtual at all. When you step outside, what are the needs you see in your community? What are the specific issues on your block, in your neighborhood, your town, city or state? What needs to change, and what needs to be preserved or protected? While there are almost certainly national or international issues that affect you and your neighbors, there are as many geographically-specific and local ones.  

2. Consult Your Network 

Humans are social beings, and each of us hold a deeply innate need to be a part of a group. Most likely, you’ve engaged in charitable giving on social media or been part of some other kind of group fundraising effort. There’s something special about being part of reaching a fundraising goal with your friends, relatives or co-workers. The more people are involved, the more impact you can have. 

Another way to begin is to ask your friends and family about their priorities. Which local nonprofits do they give to or volunteer with regularly, and why? You might ask your kids or grandkids what issues are important to them. It doesn’t have to be people know you; keep an eye out in the local news media for charitable opportunities and events, or join a local giving circle.  

Take your network’s suggestions and interests to heart, and perhaps join them for an upcoming event or program. You may find, at the very least, a new activity to do with your friends. You may also find a “new-to-you” nonprofit worthy of your time and support.  

3. Start Small 

“So shines a good deed in a weary world.” The words of Shakespeare are quite prescient when accounting for our interactions with others. Practiced regularly, small acts of kindness can create a world of difference over time. For philanthropists, it doesn’t take millions to make a difference. In 2020, gifts of $250 or less grew by 15 percent over the previous year. Starting small is also a great way to get to know an organization. 

Many DAF providers have low thresholds to opening an account for grantmaking. NPT DAF donors can recommend grants as little as $250. What’s more, using online automated portals like NPT GivingPoint allows donors to set up regular recurring grants to nonprofits in monthly, quarterly, or annual intervals. Nonprofits that can rely on regular support in this manner are able to stretch their programs and impact well beyond current capabilities. 

4. Think Values 

It is important for donors to align the causes they support with their own values and interests. Your philanthropic priorities can be based on your deepest moral and ethical beliefs, but they can also be based on fun. If you have hobby or a passion you pursue in your spare time, odds are there are local charitable organizations engaged in the same activity. From rec sports to local history to art and creative expression, it’s likely there’s a local nonprofit devoted to promoting and bringing your interests to new people. 

You can also look to your current giving portfolio for guidance. If you give to a national environmental group, set aside some funds this year to donate to a local preserve, as well. If your alma mater is a mainstay, find a local after school or homework help organization to support. If museums and theatres are your fare, you can donate to arts and drama programs that help bring the arts to new generations. 

5. Give your Time and Talent, in Addition to Treasure 

There’s no wrong way to be a philanthropist, and the impulse towards giving is not limited to financial support alone. Giving your time through volunteering is just as valuable and just as thoughtful as writing a check. If you are so inclined, many local organizations regularly engage in volunteer programs. Sites like Volunteermatch.org link opportunities with like-minded individuals who want to give of their time and expertise.

Volunteering with a local organization also helps you get an inside understanding of their mission and operations. It’s philanthropic fact-finding. If you find a volunteer opportunity that is consistently rewarding, you can follow up your involvement with a gift, or match your gift of time with a recurring grant. 

Local philanthropy can provide an almost instantaneous return on investment—for both the grantee organization and you, the donor. Communities improve when more people have a stake in them. No matter how you get involved, you will notice a difference. It may be evident in increased local business growth, community revitalization, better educational outcomes, cleaner air, water, and green spaces, or just a deeper connection with your friends, neighbors and fellow citizens. Whether you’re in a major metro, a small town, or a rural area, there is good to be done by giving locally. 

Trina Middleton is NPT’s Director of Premier Donor Services. She works with high-net-worth donors and their advisors to help them reach their charitable goals. From ensuring that their intent is honored through grant agreements to exploring the possibilities of international grantmaking. Trina completed a dual-degree program with Spelman College and the Georgia Institute of Technology and holds a Bachelor of Civil Engineering. She completed her Masters of Science in Nonprofit Leadership from the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.

NPT does not provide legal or tax advice. This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be, and shall not be relied upon as, legal or tax advice. The applicability of information contained here may vary depending on individual circumstances.