Philanthropy 101 for Doing Good in the OKC Metro - 405 Magazine

Philanthropy 101 for Doing Good in the OKC Metro

This community – our community – becomes a better place when we combine our efforts to improve it, and people who invest their time, talent and treasure in philanthropic pursuits often find themselves reaping personal rewards. There’s a nonprofit in the metro that could use your help; check out our Do-Gooder’s Guide to Giving Back

A Do-Gooder’s Guide to Giving Back

It’s A Funny Place, This United States Of America. At Once The Strongest And Most Affluent Nation In The Recorded History Of The World,
Our Humble Beginnings As A Colony For Outcasts Lie At The Roots Of Our Family Tree. Financially Bankrupt By The Time The Revolution Ended With The Cornering Of Cornwallis At Yorktown, Westward Expansion Soon Spawned An Unprecedented Era Of Growth And Conquest. Our “Manifest Destiny” Drove Us Over The Appalachians, Across The Great Plains, Through The Rockies, On To The Pacific Ocean And Beyond.

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After nearly two-and-a-half centuries, we are land rich, resource rich and cash rich. OK, maybe we’re a little on the cash poor side, depending upon whose numbers you ascribe to. Still, for all our wealth, we’re a nation of outcasts at heart. The wretched, the tired, the huddled masses – that describes most of us somewhere down the line. Ostracized elsewhere (and sometimes here, too), somebody related to us sought refuge and a better life in the U.S. of A.

That kind of upbringing tends to stick with you, and collectively, as a nation we are no exception.
We champion innovation and laud the exploits of the self-made man (or woman). We love a rags-to-riches story of guts, guile and a little good luck. We all root against the Yankees … well, we should. Who watches “Star Wars” and cheers for the evil Empire? Anyway, we love our underdogs, our Cinderella stories and those little things that make us feel happy inside. Like watching the Yankees lose. Or maybe the Cubs win.

We also like to feel as if we played a part in those special moments. Deep into our second century of nationhood, John F. Kennedy appealed to that need for emotional connectedness when he implored the citizens of this great nation to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Here at Slice, we heard that call echoing from the past –and will now heed your need for a how-to when it comes to giving back. 

Photo courtesy boys & Girls clubs of OK County

Step 1: Pick Your Passion

If you’ve read this far, you’re thinking about getting involved in your community. Great! Aside from painting the church nursery or chaperoning your kid’s painfully awkward middle school dance (flask optional), most community engagement endeavors are going to lead you to one nonprofit organization or another.

Nonprofit organizations exist to fill in the gaps where government and for-profit enterprises fail to meet or address a societal need. This is not an indictment of either sector. Government simply cannot (and should not) be expected to do every little thing – it’s unrealistic and bad public policy. For-profit companies operate to, well, make a profit. There’s usually not a lot of profit involved in the nonprofit sector, where your product line features “what ifs” instead of widgets and your supply and demand curves consist of dreams versus reality, not guns versus butter.

The National Center for Charitable Statistics listed over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in operation in the United States in 2010. There are over 18,000 nonprofits in Oklahoma alone. So pick a cause, any cause, and there is surely a nonprofit organization that would love your help. Now you have to figure out which cause you want to support. This is the easy part because it’s all about you.

“Look in your heart and see what your passion is,” recommends Marnie Taylor, President and CEO for the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits. Are you an insurance claims adjuster by day but an aspiring oboist at heart? There’s a performing arts organization out there just waiting to hear from you. Do you love animals? Plenty of options out there for pet people. Does homelessness and poverty get you down? You – yes, you! – can get out there and do something about it. Social service agencies all around town help feed, clothe and shelter our neighbors who are down on their luck.

Volunteers aiding the community through the YMCA. Photo by Quit Nguyen

Step 2: Find Your Niche

Let’s cut to the chase here. Philanthropy in the nonprofit arena comes in three flavors. If you are interested in supporting a cause, be prepared to part with one or all of the holy trinity of “T’s” – that’s time, talent and treasure. Now before you get all weak-kneed and cold-footed, first realize that nobody is asking you to sign your life away. Your life and comfort level will determine what kind and how much “T” you can donate.

In its simplest form, time translates into volunteering. How you go about volunteering depends upon how much time you have to give and what you are interested in doing. To find places and ways to volunteer in Oklahoma City, is a good place to start.

“It lets you see what’s out there,” explains Julie VanDeLinder, Sales Director, West, for “Search-wise, it’s an easy tool to use to find causes, tasks and volunteer opportunities for kids. If you’re just starting out, VolunteerMatch gives you an opportunity to sample a few different experiences.”

In many cases that first experience will be a non-skilled activity that supports the agency mission. If you have more time than treasure to donate, this is a logical way to offer your support. It’s also a great way to learn more about an organization. With a few clicks and scrolls, can help you find an option that’s right for you. “We’re not a technology company,” adds’s Dianna Smith, Director, Central Territory, “we’re a ‘remove the barriers’ company.” In short, exists to make it easy to volunteer.

That’s one noble calling, because organizations large and small need volunteers to keep their programs going. “Our branches rely heavily on volunteers,” says Alexis Lux, Vice President of Financial Development for the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City. “The coaches for kids’ sports and camp counselors are all volunteers.” At Christmas Connection, a local social service nonprofit that distributes clothing, toys and household items for free to qualified recipients, volunteers gave over 14,000 hours of service in 2013 – the equivalent of having seven extra full-time staff members. “There’s a lot to do,” says Program Director Donna Robison. “Volunteers help sort donations, hang clothes, answer the phone,” she explains. “Volunteer ‘shopper assistants’ escort clients through the store and help them find items they need. If you like to shop – help someone shop!”

Volunteers aiding the community through the YMCA's Christmas Connection. Photo by Quit Nguyen

While non-skilled tasks are the entry-level positions in the volunteer world, you may have a specific skill that is in demand in the nonprofit community. Here Time and Talent merge as you become more engaged in your philanthropic pursuits. By and large, nonprofit organizations are lightly staffed and operate on shoestring budgets. Limited cash flow makes staff specialists such as website designers and information technology professionals a rare commodity. If you have these or other specialized skills, consider donating that talent to a nonprofit that you support.

On the administrative side of things, nonprofits rely on volunteers to fill board and committee positions as well. It’s here where the talent and treasure portions of the nonprofit triad come together. Being a board member can be fun and satisfying, but it is also important work. Jim Farris, President of James Farris Associates, offers some perspective. “People want to be on boards for a lot of reasons,” says Farris, a longtime contributor to nonprofit boards around the state. “Prestige, looks good on a resume, your boss wants you to represent your company – these are all good reasons” to seek board positions. Board membership also provides a window into your little world. “Being on a board is how you find out how your community really operates.”

Make no mistake – boards are not social clubs. They have a job to do. Actually three jobs, according to Farris: manage the organization’s executive; set policy for the nonprofit; and raise money. “If you can’t do all of these things, you probably shouldn’t be on a board,” he says. Fundraising often trips people up. While board members are typically expected to make a financial contribution to the organization, an active and engaged board member is involved in the greater fundraising efforts of the organization as well. “Every board is a fundraising board,” asserts Farris. “Some fundraising is cyclical, like the annual United Way campaign,” he elaborates. “Other boards are in constant fundraising mode.”

United Way photo by Simon Hurst

Time and talent are always appreciated in the nonprofit world. For organizations that rely heavily on the generosity of private donors or corporate largesse, treasure is always welcome too. After all, nothing says, “I love you” like cold, hard cash. If you simply have no time to volunteer and your professional talents keep you overly committed elsewhere, perhaps you have some savings that you would like to dedicate to the greater good. By all means, get out the checkbook and support the causes you care about. But before you uncap that pen, do yourself a favor and conduct a little due diligence.

While charity scams are blessedly scarce in Oklahoma, donors are still wise to treat their charitable gifts with the same level of caution as their investments in the stock market. “A donor’s biggest fear,” says Taylor, “is that you’re investing in something that doesn’t go to the highest goal and mission.” Fortunately, there are a host of easily accessible tools that donors can use to navigate what may be unfamiliar territory. Although they are tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations are required to report financial activity to the Internal Revenue Service via the Form 990 (think of it as an elaborate 1040 for nonprofits). Many organizations post their recently filed forms and other financial information right on their websites. Additionally, “Every charity is legally supposed to be registered [with the Secretary of State],” Taylor says.

A few clearinghouse-type websites can streamline your research. These sites are free for nonprofits and potential donors, although you may be required to register to log in. For smaller nonprofits, is a great first stop. The site provides detail about 1.8 million nonprofits nationwide, including income and expense figures, board members, IRS Forms 990 and annual reports. For larger nonprofits (think those with annual budgets of $1 million or more), provides similar snapshots along with a side-by-side comparison tool.

Although nonprofits are not required to post information to or, the sites have earned such sterling reputations that most organizations strive to post their profiles there and keep them up-to-date. First of all, that’s where donors are looking for information. Secondly, it’s an indicator of an organization’s willingness to share information. “We are 100 percent behind transparency,” says the YMCA’s Lux. While the reporting requirements are burdensome for any business, the trend toward transparency and promoting high standards is welcome within the nonprofit community. “The industry is doing more benchmarking than ever before,” says Taylor, “and that’s good for everyone.”

A philanthropic feast at the United Way’s annual Campaign Kick-Off and free community pancake breakfast. Photo by Simon Hurst

Step 3: Believe the Hype!

Getting behind a cause you care deeply about “enhances your life by letting you live out your passion,” says Taylor. The facts bear this out. In its “Doing Good is Good for You: 2013 Health and Volunteering Study,” UnitedHealth Group revealed that adults who volunteer feel better physically, mentally and emotionally; experience lower stress levels; and enjoy more meaningful connections to their communities and other people.

This is equally good news for volunteers who are participating in the workforce and their employers. Some benefits cited by the UnitedHealth Group study show that employees who volunteer are healthier and more productive. Lower healthcare costs and greater productivity lead to a better bottom line for companies. The social benefits are also noteworthy. Volunteers report that workplace-supported philanthropic activities help improve their time-management skills, strengthen relationships with coworkers and foster greater feelings of goodwill toward their employer. What’s good for the geese is good for the gander.

Payroll deduction donations embraced by organizations like United Way are well known and generate lots of participation and funds. “The money you give can come in different ways too,” says’s Smith. Many companies offer “Dollars for Doers” programs, in which an employer makes financial contributions to organizations for which their employees volunteer. For example, your company will make a $200 donation to the local animal shelter for every 40 hours you volunteer there. For employees with some time to give but not a lot of money, Dollars for Doers rewards both volunteers and nonprofits. To find out if your company offers a Dollars for Doers program, ask your supervisor or human resources representative. Your company may also offer a “matching gifts” program. If you donate $100 to that same animal shelter or other nonprofit, the company will match your gift by donating $100 out of the corporate coffers.

Aside from the financial benefits to the organization and the possible tax incentives for you (please consult your accountant or tax advisor for details), philanthropy can be a deeply rewarding experience for you and your community. And you don’t have to go far to have a positive impact. “You always hear about poverty in other places,” says Valerie Aubert, Interim Executive Director at Christmas Connection, “but it’s right here too. And it’s easier to help people here than three states away.”

Veteran nonprofit volunteer Jim Farris concurs, “You’ve got to give back,” he urges. “If you’re not doing something to help, you’re on cruise control.” 

Philanthropy has the power to transform individuals, communities and even the world. In return for your investment as a volunteer, unpaid consultant, board member or benefactor, you will likely be healthier, happier and better connected to your neighbors in the community. Your stress levels will go down and your tax burden may be lightened as well. Nonprofit organizations benefit from expanded staff time provided by volunteer efforts, savings through the acceptance of donated professional services and financial stability thanks to monetary contributions.

As a society we reap the rewards by becoming better educated about our communities. Philanthropy gives us the privilege of sharing the burden of our collective challenges and celebrating the successes of the achievements both common and extraordinary that are taking place all around us. Philanthropy makes us more connected to the tales of triumph against the odds, victories snatched from the jaws of defeat and the downtrodden rising to prominence. In a word, philanthropy makes us American. 

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Know Your Rights!

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) is a professional organization comprised of people who work in the field of nonprofit fundraising. For the record, “fundraising,” “development” and “advancement” are typically interchangeable terms used to describe the same activity: raising money to support the mission of a nonprofit. AFP is dedicated to creating and upholding high ethical standards for the fundraising industry. Members are required to adhere to the organization’s standards, which are measures designed to protect organizations and donors from unseemly business practices.

AFP created the “Donor Bill of Rights” to inform and guide both fundraisers and donors. If you are donating your hard-earned money to further the mission of a nonprofit, educate yourself about your rights as a donor.

United Way Volunteers. Photo by Simon Hurst

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 Philanthropy is based on voluntary action for the common good. It is a tradition of giving and sharing that is primary to the quality of life. To ensure that philanthropy merits the respect and trust of the general public, and that donors and prospective donors can have full confidence in the nonprofit organizations and causes they are asked to support,
we declare that all donors have these rights:

I.    To be informed of the organization’s mission, of the way the organization intends to use donated resources, and of its capacity to use donations effectively for their intended purposes.

II.    To be informed of the identity of those serving on the organization’s governing board, and to expect the board to exercise prudent judgment in its stewardship responsibilities.

III.    To have access to the organization’s most recent financial statements.

IV.    To be assured their gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given.

V.    To receive appropriate acknowledgement and recognition.

VI.    To be assured that information about their donation is handled with respect and with confidentiality to the extent provided by law. 

VII.    To expect that all relationships with individuals representing organizations of interest to the donor will be professional in nature.

VIII.    To be informed whether those seeking donations are volunteers, employees of the organization or hired solicitors.

IX.    To have the opportunity for their names to be deleted from mailing lists that an organization may intend to share.

X.    To feel free to ask questions when making a donation and to receive prompt, truthful and forthright answers.

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Photo by Simon Hurst

Cram Session! • Philanthropy 101 CliffsNotes

Use these tools to learn more about supporting the nonprofit organizations you love.

► Allied Arts

The irascible Oscar Wilde once declared (ironically, of course), “All art is quite useless.” The folks at Allied Arts would put down their copy of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” to disagree wholeheartedly. Allied Arts is an umbrella agency that raises funds for 26 arts and cultural organizations around the metro through workplace payroll deduction and other campaigns. Think of it as a United Way for the arts. The organization also hosts the crowd-funding site Here, “Donors can fund specific projects posted by organizations,” explains Allied Arts Development Assistant Caitlin Tarasi.

► Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Oklahoma Chapter

This international professional association holds member fundraisers and their organizations to high ethical standards. With chapters around the world, AFP is responsible for raising the levels of professionalism within the fundraising industry to great heights. Fundraising professionals affiliated with AFP can earn the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) credential only through years of work in the field, continuing education credits and by sitting for (and passing) an examination. AFP members are as serious about their profession as you are about your donation.

► Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits

The mission of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits is simple: “Building better communities through effective nonprofits.” The Center provides resources, training and the acclaimed “Standards of Excellence” series to nonprofits throughout the state. With offices in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the Center is also a resource for philanthropists and donors. If you get bogged down trying to figure out the best place to dedicate your time, talent and treasure, the Center will gladly help guide you down your personal path to happiness.

 Oklahoma Secretary of State

The Secretary of State website offers a searchable database of nonprofit filings. Search by entity name to see if your beneficiary of choice is registered and up to date on all required filings. 

► United Way of Central Oklahoma

Speaking of the United Way, fall is the traditional kickoff for this ubiquitous fundraising firm. United Way donations support dozens of health and human services nonprofits. The organization also recruits, grooms and places high-quality board members for area agencies. Workplace giving campaigns drive the organization’s fundraising efforts, but there are many other ways for you to Live United.

Though not technically related, these two websites provide easy to use, searchable databases chock full of information about nonprofits of all sizes. As the go-to sites for donors, wise nonprofits keep their profiles here up-to-date. If you want to make sure the most recent information is posted on the sites, each organization’s phone number and other contact information should be readily available. 

The premier volunteer resource on the web, has placed over 8 million volunteers since 1998. Search the site for local opportunities ranging from skilled to highly technical and for ages from kids to seniors. For specific missions, search by keyword or nonprofit area of interest. The three big ones are Advocacy & Human Rights, Animals and Arts & Culture. The site also provides leads for board opportunities. Organizations post profiles and update opportunities regularly, so check in for new events frequently.