Maybe it’s the cold, introspective weather, maybe it’s the holiday spirit, maybe it’s the year-end tax implications. Whatever the motivation, this is the time of year when many of us make or augment our charitable giving.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

You probably have some well-known favorites you like to support each year, but for those new to the giving game or looking to expand their horizons, the question becomes, how to know which charity to trust?

Some folks hire professional donor advisers. If I am ever in that league, I’ll be sure to take advantage of their expertise. However, back here in reality, a version of that same expertise exists for us all, thanks to the Maine Community Foundation.

Founded in 1983 by Ed Kaelber, a phenomenal human being I had the honor of knowing, MCF funds work that strengthens Maine communities, supports the environment and provides scholarships – just to name a few areas of giving. There certainly are some big-time donors that give through their program and establish family foundations, but small donors such as yours truly are welcome, too. For folks like me, it takes the worry out because MCF experts do all the vetting, research and follow-up on donations, and my funds are pooled to make a larger impact in the areas we care most about.

If you’d prefer to do your giving more directly or there is a particular charity or cause that has your heart, there are several agencies whose purpose is to research and rate various charities so you can give with confidence.

Of the vast array, two of the best known are Charity Navigator and GiveWell. Each of these organizations offers excellent information. They show you how much each charity raises, what percentage of their operating budget goes into fundraising and what percentage goes into the program.

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One small note: as a person who spent most of her working life in small nonprofits, take the latter with a few grains of salt. No charity should be throwing lavish parties or providing wild CEO salaries, but there is something eternally demoralizing about asking people to work long hours for low pay while sitting in cold, beige rooms with broken, second- or third-hand technology that never works. You want a charity to hire really smart, competent people and provide them with a working atmosphere that nourishes their creativity.

If you are a donor who prefers more of a helping hand over a handout approach, then consider the world of microfinance.

The best known of these is undoubtedly Kiva, whose operational model is described by Forbes magazine as, “in essence, a bank funded by people who lend their money with an expectation of losing only a little, to 2.9 million people who stand to gain a lot.” Through Kiva, you have the option to make microloans (as many as you like) to people around the globe. The expectation is that loans are paid back, allowing you to recoup or donate again to someone else. It’s a really cool concept, and Kiva receives a top rating from Charity Navigator, too.

At the end of the day, one of the greatest benefits to giving is the actual process of deciding what we will give to. It clarifies who we are and what we value, and it reinforces just how fortunate we all are to live in this beautiful place with one another as neighbors. I am thankful for all of you, and may 2022 bring us all much joy and togetherness.

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