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Shelley Jacobson

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1) Why do you give?
I have been blessed with many friends and family that have been there for me when I needed it, and this is my way of honoring them and giving back to the community. Also, I was taught at an early age that compassion and charity are part of having a fulfilled life.

2) Why do you think giving is important?
It doesn't matter who you are ... there is always someone who is less fortunate than you are. You may not be able to give financially at different points in your life, and then giving of your time can be extremely satisfying. Compassion for others is given back ten-fold.

3) What do you look for in an organization that you'd like to support?
The first thing that I look at is the mission of the organization. It is important to me to give to an agency whose mission closely aligns with my personal and professional values. Then I look at what percentage of their funding goes directly to program costs and how much is spent for administration and fundraising. I also check if there are measurable program outcomes that are being met, and the diversity of those served.

4) What about your experience working with charity organizations?
I have worked with and for nonprofits for over thirty years and know that the majority of them are sincerely doing the best they can to fulfill their mission. If you have questions about anything related to the organization that concerns you as a donor, call the agency. They are generally more than willing to share whatever information you need.

5) What advice would you give to other potential donors?
Create an annual giving plan for yourself. First determine what amount you feel you can give during a year. Then look at what areas you want to give to – the arts, your faith community, educational institutions, agencies providing crisis and/or immediate services, youth serving organizations, etc. Next research the particular organizations within those categories that really speak to your values, and learn more about them – go to their websites, check them out with the Charities Review Council, talk to people who may have used their services or volunteered there, get involved with the organization yourself – and make your final agency decisions. Prioritize those organizations and divide your giving funds between the agencies, leaving a certain amount available for unexpected giving opportunities (like Katrina, etc.). Then give gladly! The other advice I would give is that donors need to be realistic about the costs related to general/administration and fundraising. Every agency needs to have adequate infrastructure in order to sustain and thrive. Do not be dismayed when an agency’s general and fundraising costs are between 15 and 25% of their budget; instead be concerned if you see those costs under 10% of the budget. That can be an indication that they may not be budgeting enough to maintain the programs and services they provide.

6) What has been your best giving experience?
My best giving experience was when I was able to see the actual impact of my gift in people’s lives. I was involved with a program (Summertime Santa) that provided single parent working families with a week’s vacation to resorts in northern Minnesota. We contacted resorts, fundraised, solicited nominations for recipients, begged for contributions, and selected families. There were only three criteria - they had to be single parents, working but low income, and have a semi-reliable car. We thought we would only be able to raise enough money to maybe send two or three families a summer. Never doubt the power of a good idea!! In the course of the next two years we sent almost fifty families on vacation. We paid for everything - gas, food, the resort, fun money, and beach toys! I will never be able to fully express the depth of the joy that I received from being a part of “Summertime Santa.” We would work through and with the nominator of a family to find out when the family would be able to take a vacation (all “undercover” of course) and we showed up on the family’s doorstep (again the nominator made sure they would be home) with our Santa hats on, ringing reindeer bells, and our arms full of goodies for their vacation. Imagine their surprise and delight when they discovered why these two crazy women were ringing their doorbell. Reactions ranged from total disbelief (we had to have the nominator call one woman while we were there to convince her we were for real!) to wild laughter to sobs of gratitude. The only thing the families had to do to pay us back was attend a picnic at the end of the summer and show us pictures of their vacation (oh, we provided cameras and film too through a donation from Target). What a joyous occasion that was as single parent families celebrated together and reminisced about the fun they had on vacation. We knew that for many of the children that when they went back to school in the fall and were asked that inevitable question, “What did you do on summer vacation?”, they would smile broadly and with authority would say, “Did you know that there is a Summertime Santa?”.

7) Has the Charities Review Council been useful for you?
Absolutely! As strange as this may sound, we need to treat our giving practices just as we would as a consumer of any product. The Charities Review Council is equivalent to “Consumer Reports” – they do the research work for us on the health and stability of an organization, and we are then able to compare and contrast what organizations best fit our standards.

8) What can donors do to strengthen nonprofits?
When you find a nonprofit(s) that you really resonate with become a multi-year donor, and let the nonprofit know that you are pledging a specific amount for a certain number of years. It is so important for agencies to know that they not only have your support this year, but also in future years.