One of the greatest things about the Sheridan County community is the generosity and giving nature of its citizens.
Each time fundraisers are held for local nonprofits or to help a family cover medical bills after a tragic accident or diagnosis, Sheridan residents eagerly rise to the challenge.
The tragedy doesn’t even have to be in Sheridan. Local ranchers have given money and heads of cattle to neighbors in South Dakota who lost everything during winter storm Atlas.
With the recent coming and going of typhoon Haiyan, individuals across the globe are looking for the best way to help those victims.
In addition, with the holidays quickly upon us, the season of giving is about to enter warp speed.
There are several ways to give wisely this holiday season and throughout the year.
The first thing to do is get to know the charity to which you are considering donating.
There are several ways to do this. You can request written information about the mission statement, whether or not board members are paid, where most of the donations come from, etc.
You can also look at the nonprofits’ latest tax statements, known as 990s. These can be found, for free, online at guidestar.org.
Another thing to know before you give is where the dollars go. How much of each donation goes directly to the cause the nonprofit organization represents? Ideally, at least 60 percent of the donation goes to the program services rather than administration costs, but the importance of this ratio varies among givers.
The best way to gather this information is simply to ask the nonprofit or look at details provided in the 990s.
If you’re giving to a national organization, check out their rating on the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, which is associated with the Council of Better Business Bureaus and has free reviews of more than 1,000 national charities. Local Better Business Bureaus may also have evaluations of charities.
You should also keep records of your donations. This will help later with tax deductions.
If you are unsure where to start, or where to find a charity that you are interested in supporting, try searching CharityNavigator.org. You can comb through directories by region or category and review nonprofit ratings.
Here in Sheridan, you can visit the nonprofit in person. Few, if any, organizations in the area would turn away a citizen looking to learn more about programs being offered. Begin a dialogue about program results and accountability. Trust your instincts on whether you feel the charity is a worthy cause.
The bottom line is to ask questions, do your research and when you are ready — give generously.