TEXT OF INTERVIEW
TESS VIGELAND: I wonder if you could argue that charitable giving is green. You’re recycling goodwill, right? Not to mention your dollars? Well here with some tips on planning your end-of-year donations is someone who knows more than a little about the topic. Melissa Berman is president and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Yes, that Rockefeller. Melissa, welcome to the show.
MELISSA BERMAN: Thank you.
VIGELAND: You know, we hear a lot about kind of figuring out what your own motivation is for giving. It sounds pretty obvious. I give to animal shelters because I love animals, but maybe it’s a little more involved than we think it is?
BERMAN: I think for many of us, we want to take a few minutes — at this time of year especially — to kind of look inside and say, ‘What are the things that I really care about?’ You really want to be able to tie the issues and the organizations that you support to what really moves you. You’ll actually stick with your giving program longer and you’ll become a really great advocate for the organizations that you care about, and you’ll help them get more money.
VIGELAND: How much homework should we be doing before donating? How many people really invest their time as well as their money to make sure that the donation is going to be used in the way they expect it to be?
BERMAN: Well, you know, I used to be a teacher so I’m pretty big on homework. And I think it’s a terrific thing to spend a little time online so that you understand what kind of programs they have and how the money is going to be used to help people.
VIGELAND: I think there’s still a big gap in trust between the public and companies in this country coming out of the financial collapse, and it’s not just corporate America, nonprofits are companies too. People are really wary of just handing out their dollars — whether it be to buy stocks or to donate. What needs to be repaired there and how does that happen?
BERMAN: The trust deficit that this recession has created is a very significant issue. People give to nonprofits, often motivated by faith and belief and they hate to have those expectations dashed. I think that nonprofits probably have to be more thorough about documenting how they’re using funds, who they’re helping, and what a difference they’re making. And I think those of us who are making donations also have a responsibility to learn how to ask the right questions: Why does this problem exist? How can nonprofits make a difference? So that we can be making informed decisions and having a really informed discussion.
VIGELAND: You advise wealthy individuals and corporate foundations on their giving strategies. Are those any different for kind of just regular folks who don’t have huge estates or is the advice really similar across the board?
BERMAN: No. The advice is really pretty similar across the board. Even The Gates Foundation doesn’t have enough money to attack every problem in the world. All of us have to sit down and say, ‘I have limited resources. What are the areas that I really care about?’ And although it’s hard, it is better to take your dollars and spread them out across a smaller number of organizations than to just give every organization that asks you $10 or $20.
VIGELAND: Melissa Berman, thank you so much and happy holidays.
BERMAN: Thank you. Happy holidays to you.
VIGELAND: Melissa heads up Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.
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