The Keys to Giving

Fundraising expert Amy Shackelford 
offers some advice for donors before 
they write their next check.

For Amy Shackelford of Sedona Productions, the “season of giving” has not come and gone; in fact, the New Year rings in a fresh “year of giving,” as philanthropy has become a daily concern on both a personal and professional level. As the events director for Sedona Productions at Cendera Center, Amy works often with non-profits who utilize the center for fundraisers. In fact, on February 16th, Amy and Sedona Productions will once again host an annual symposium that helps educate non-profits on best operational practices.

Amy’s position at Sedona Productions has given her a unique perspective on what goes into a successful charity event. Her personal fundraising credentials extend to membership on the board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, an organization she will help lead as vice president of professional development as a January 2016.

“Philanthropy has always been a big draw for me,” says Amy. “I grew up very active in my church and was a member of Delta Gamma at TCU, where the mission was focused on philanthropy.”

If your New Year’s resolutions involve a greater dedication to charitable giving, Amy has some tips to help determine where to place your money. After all, noble intentions can amount to nothing without proper implementation, and donors must be careful that their money gets put to the best possible use. The first step to identifying a worthy donor, says Amy, is to get involved.

“I always like to volunteer and experience what a group is doing,” she explains. “Events are an easy way to volunteer for a group, and if a donor is interested in giving money, I always recommend attending an event as a guest or volunteer.”

An event can reveal much about an organization’s structure and attitude toward money. Most donors would prefer to give money to non-profits that place their mission before all else, a trait that appears on clear display in well-run events.

“A lot of organizations just go for their fundraising goal and lose sight of their missions,” says Amy. “They don’t realize how important it is to put the mission first.”

According to Amy, a prospective donor should also pay attention to how organizations spend money to hold events. It takes money to make money, of course, but the overall attitude should emphasize economy.

“The attitude toward event cost is something that is very important,” she says. “If an organization is being frugal and shows an understanding of how investment benefits the group, then that’s an organization I would more likely support.”

Original thinking and a creative approach are also hallmarks of premier organizations, and donors should think twice about groups who rely too much on the same tired practices.

“Donors should look at groups that think outside the box,” says Amy. “Tradition is important, and people love it, but a lack of diversity can limit goals.”

For those with an impulse to vet organizations through research, Amy suggests a valuable online resource: guidestar.org, a website that aggregates the documentation that all non-profits are required to submit.

“Most non-profits are required to file a 990 form with the IRS,” says Amy. “It provides information on their mission, programming and finances. It covers a whole fiscal year, and it’s really interesting to see how non-profits operate.”

Among other things, a prospective donor can learn who serves on a non-profit’s board and the length of their tenure, which provide indications about the effectiveness of leadership. You can also see how much money a non-profit has raised and the nature of its expenses.

“You can see the percentage that goes toward their operational expenses as opposed to their mission, which is one thing I would certainly look at,” says Amy.

As for red flags, Amy singles out large payments to leadership and high operating costs.

“If you can determine how much a non-profit’s leaders make, decide how you feel about that. Some of the national ones pay a fortune to their leadership.”

The final determination, of course, occurs within the donor’s heart, under the influence of his or her instincts. Numbers and statistics aside, the number one criteria for giving is often pretty simple:

“Is an organization’s mission near and dear to your heart?” asks Amy. “If it is, then the emotional connection can mean more than the percentages.”

Amy is also clear to point out that there are more ways to support an organization than the donation of money.

“It all goes back to relationships,” she says. “If you believe in an organization, I certainly suggest doing a service project. Sometimes taking care of the staff can be just as important as helping further the mission.”