Manage Wallet What Questions Should You Ask If You’re Donating to Charity?

Have you ever wondered what questions you should ask of a charity if you’re going to make a gift to them?A small number of donors take the time or the effort to make a considered and thoughtful gift to a nonprofit, but I think more of us should be doing a little more due diligence.It doesn’t matter if you give $5 or $5 million. There are some things you can do to make sure your money is well spent and is making an impact. Each of the following points provides you with the picture of an organization that’s got its act together.

Website: I attend conferences, and at times I’m asked to do public speaking. Sometimes I’ve asked the audience this simple question, “How many of you have a website?” Unbelievably, I’ve stood there and watched only about half the hands go up. Then I’ve asked, “How many of you have a website you’re proud of?” And even fewer hands go up.

In today’s world, this makes no sense. If you hear of a nonprofit and want to give to the organization but don’t see a website or don’t see a site that looks like there’s been some real effort put into it, you may want to reconsider your gift. Ask yourself why that’s the case, or better still, ask them directly.When you’re looking at the site, you want to see one that of an organization that is transparent, which includes the names of management (at minimum), board members, programs, and ideally, they’re financial information.

Social Media: This is another important aspect of marketing that is essential in today’s world. Check Facebook and see if the organization where you want to donate has a Facebook page. If they don’t, you have to ask yourself why that’s the case. Even the smallest organizations that my social enterprise works with which earn less than $100,000 in a year have Facebook pages. However, I’m also aware that a lot of charities don’t, and it’s a missed opportunity. Facebook is the king of social media and has been for years, as you know. You have to wonder why a nonprofit is not on Facebook and other social media platforms in this day and age.

Financials: As a donor, you care where your money goes, don’t you? You work hard for your hard earned cash, and you want to make sure that every dollar is spent well to make the greatest impact possible. The more sophisticated nonprofits that understand the value of transparency and information for the public and donors provide their financials right on their website. It’s usually found in the “About Us” area. If they are good about being transparent, you’ll typically see their 990 IRS filing or an annual report, which will include their financials. A 990 is a regulatory tool that provides the government and the public information about the financials of a nonprofit. Not all nonprofits have to file a 990 depending on their receipts.

When you understand the financials of an organization, you’ll understand several aspects of the organization, including how much is directed to program expenses, if the executive salaries are in line with the industry average, and how much is spent on fundraising. You can find 990s for organizations which have filed them with the IRS by going to GuideStar.By the way, if an organization has not published their 990s or audited financials on their website, or if you don’t see them on Guidestar, but you still want to give a donation, you should call and ask them. These documents should be readily available.

Mission/Goals/Measurement: A nonprofit should have on its website, its material or if you call, a mission that’s easy to understand–and explain. If you don’t see or hear it explained concisely, you have to wonder how they are delivering on their mission through their programs.

For me, I also want to see the vision, which is exemplified by the goals (or a vision statement). You have to know where an organization is going. What’s the view of the future, and more importantly, what are the facts and stats that they’re using to demonstrate that they are, in fact, making a difference? If you don’t see that, you have to wonder what’s going on.

I’m one of those people who believe there are one too many nonprofits out there doing the same thing, and many are not being effective. I think we should reward the organizations that are the best in class. I believe in competition, even in the nonprofit sector. All nonprofits should strive to be the best, and those that don’t have that desire should probably close their doors. I’m sure you may agree with me as a donor.The next time you’re thinking of putting your card down and transferring money to a nonprofit, take five minutes to check out their website. Ask yourself what you see. Do you see the best or do you see an organization that couldn’t be bothered? If you see the latter, ask yourself why you should give your money to them? Reward the nonprofit down the street that is making it happen.

Artificial Intelligence and Our Humanity

We hear and read about it everywhere these days.

You hear people saying, “The future is now.”

“We have to give way to technology.”

“We’ll be better off and live better lives (maybe not even work) if we let AI do it.”

Yes, technology is here, and we are living at the dawn of the age of AI, and it’s a topic that we’ve seen and heard a lot more about this year.

I wonder what the opportunities will be for the average person. You know, the person who is not the founder of Facebook, Google or Amazon, which have placed such high barriers to entry that it will be rare for companies to break into that stratospheric league.

What’s Going to Happen with Humans?

Do you wonder what’s going to happen to the average person? AI are taking over customer service, writing, design, sales, law, and medicine. As a businessman and social entrepreneur, the reality is that if you’re looking at things in a purely bottom-line manner, using AI could make a whole lot of sense. They never get sick. They work 27/7/365. They never stop and can indeed produce more than any human can–in a lifetime. From a pure dollars and cents perspective, AI can make a lot of sense.

But then you have to wonder about the broader implications of AI, and I sense that society has not even started to get its head around the implications. If you pay even a little attention to the news, then you know that a few months ago Facebook engineers shut down and pulled the plug on AI that decided on its own to go ahead and develop a new language. It was more efficient for them to get the work done, but humans did not understand. It seems that the language was basic, but what happens if the AI had not been shut down? Would they have developed a highly sophisticated way to communicate and operate that completely excised human?

I agree that technology can be beneficial to society. I think most people would agree that we’d prefer to send a bot into a dangerous situation, say war, rather than ask our men and women to put their lives on the line. I think there’s something to be said for the rapidly expanding role of robotics in medicine. For example, the fact that we’ve started to print human organs with 3D is a significant advancement, and we have to hope that many lives will be saved.

The Deeper Issues Related to AI

My concern as I dig deeper into the issue of AI is what the implications are for the human race, and yes, that even includes how we in the philanthropic sector connect with each other and with the world we serve. As I noted in the previous article I wrote, the Partnership on AI, which is a collaborative effort between mega-companies such as Facebook, Apple, Google and leading non-profits such as UNICEF and Human Rights are trying to lead the conversation about the implications of AI in all of our lives.

If you tune in even a little bit into the conversation about AI, you know that we have to deal with many issues, including some of the following:

Safety: We don’t want to be in a situation where AI is created, and it is not obligated to protect human life.
Transparency: We had the recent situation with Facebook where they shut down AI, but who rules (government or business) when someone says “Houston, we have a problem”?
Labor and the Economy: Whose responsibility is it to train people as AI develops and what will their work functions be in light of a much more powerful AI partner? Will people even have jobs?
Society: For communities around the world, which certainly includes nonprofit and philanthropic work, what will be the impact of AI on philanthropy, education, charitable work, science, private/public partnerships, etc.

The reality seems to be apparently developing that there are few areas–if any–that AI will not touch.

Humanity’s Competitive Advantage

When I read about issues related to AI, I think of one thing–humanity. I believe we all have to get into the conversation now about the implications of AI. I’m someone who likes and values people precisely because we are imperfect. There is a lot of prose and poetry in the human condition. AI cannot love, demonstrate courage, hope, dream, feel fear, etc.

In my mind, those qualities are what makes humans so much better than AI. Our values are our competitive advantage in comparison to AI. There is something intrinsic within people (some call it a soul or spirit, others connect the scientific dots of all the elements that make up our brains, hearts, and bodies) that makes us unique, and yes, even exceptional.

We have a serious conversation that has to take place about AI, but it involves all humans, and we have to pay attention before we have a situation we did not bargain for in the age of technology.

The Path for Humanity as it Greets AI

In many ways, I hope that AI begins to break down the things that divide us and that we discover that as humans, we are all the same. We are. Take away the issues of money, race, religion, gender and everything else; we all bleed red.

We all hurt.

We all hope.

We all dream.

The way I see it, the time is now for humanity. It can be our finest hours at the dawn of a new age–provided we all get out of our own way and engage in a global dialogue about humanity in the age of AI.