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Philanthropy Journal of North Carolina – Planning critical at year-end

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By Todd Cohen

With war clouds gathering, the economy tanking and financial fears stressing the charitable world, donors and charities need to jerk themselves out of their holiday fog.

Rather than stumbling blindly through their traditional year-end orgy of shopping and charitable check-writing, Americans should think hard about what matters most in our society, and how they best can support charities they care about.

And instead of whining and moaning about the economy, and thrashing about for a financial lifeline, charities should calm down, clear their heads and map what they need to do to thrive and help heal our communities.

The landscape may be tough to see through the tinted windows of our sport utility vehicles, but America is getting ugly.

Fearing terrorism at home, we’re gearing for war abroad.

And just as we can’t see the terrorists in our midst, we are blind to the chronic and intertwined nature of the ingrown ills — hunger, poverty, poor health, illiteracy, racism, intolerance, environmental damage – that threaten our social fabric.

Yet instead of putting our heads together to figure out how to join hands to take on these issues, we insulate ourselves from the problems and from one another.

We need to change.

First, we need to take a hard look at the world in which charities are struggling to survive.

The economy and markets are sliding, pulling with them jobs, tax revenue, government budgets, corporate profits, and charitable giving and endowments.

Resources, in short, are shrinking, even as demand on charities for their services is growing.

To cope, charities need to think far ahead, and develop business and fundraising strategies that can sustain them over time.

Charities must build their internal operations — developing strong boards and staffs and investing in the training, planning and technology needed to operate effectively and efficiently.

They also need to set goals, find ways to measure the impact of their programs and team up with other charities and with government agencies and for-profit businesses.

And charities must expand the role of fundraising to do more than pay the rent, meet the payroll and support programs.

Charities also must embrace planned giving so they can begin to build endowments and create a continuing source of income that will help ensure financial security and free their staff from having to scramble year-round to find sources of income.

And donors and volunteers need to think hard about the internal needs of the charities they support – to strengthen their operations and develop long-term funding strategies — and then provide the funds and know-how to help charities meet those needs.

Charities face unprecedented challenges – ones that won’t fade away after the year turns and Americans sigh in relief because they won’t have to think for another 12 months about making charitable contributions.

As we celebrate the holidays, Americans should focus on the crushing challenges our society faces, and find ways to give a long-term boost to the charities that work hard year-round to address those challenges.

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