A Parade magazine article in the Kennebec Journal on Dec. 6 gave readers advice about holiday giving: “8 Tips for Being a Wise Giver,” by Alison Gwinn. With years of experience in giving to charities, we found shortcomings in Gwinn’s approach.

Her tips, and our amplifications:

• Be strategic. Gwinn quotes Sandra Miniutti of Charity Navigator: “The first thing most donors do wrong is to give to a charity because they’re asked.”

But being asked by organizations or people you respect is an excellent reason to give. The charity that makes the effort to talk with you personally earns your attention — much more so than ones that rely on bulk mail, telemarketing and email blasts to “connect.”

Miniutti also advises limiting your giving to two or three organizations. But most Americans give to more than 10 charities every year. And for good reason: There’s a lot we care about. Broad generosity deserves nurturing, not reduction.

• Look under the hood. Gwinn advises reading charities’ financial statements and annual reports before making a contribution.

But analyzing profit-and-loss statements, balance sheets and tax returns is tedious work that requires experience and doesn’t disclose much about the quality or worth of a charity’s work. Only 61 Maine charities are listed on Charity Navigator. One is Bowdoin College. Must donors read Bowdoin’s extensive financial statements in order to make a sound judgment about supporting it? Not really. Moreover, a struggling charity (or one ignored or ranked low by Charity Navigator) isn’t necessarily a bad one. Your support might make a world of difference.

• Get up close and personal. Though Gwinn devalues responding to requests for money, she encourages us to visit charities to learn more about them. That’s also lot of work. Some charities, such as museums and colleges, have staff and volunteers to accommodate visitors, but most do not.

Imagine someone requesting a tour of your workplace. That could be an unreasonable distraction from the day’s workload. Major donors might feel that a big gift justifies a visit. But Mainers with incomes between $25,000 and $100,000 make total average charitable contributions ranging from $1,553 to $2,094 per year, according to Chronicle of Philanthropy. Giving from $150 to $200 to 10 organizations (or from $500 to $666 to three organizations) hardly warrants on-site inspections.

• Consider following the leader. Gwinn encourages picking a foundation or business with “a great approach to giving,” seeing which organizations it supports, and following suit.

But most businesses don’t give as much of their incomes to charity as average people do, and foundations tend to give only what the law requires. So we’d rather see them turn to us, average Americans, to learn about the vast numbers of organizations that deserve support.

• Check the tax deduction status of your donation. Most Americans don’t itemize, and those who do usually give to support what they believe in — not to ferret out tax advantages. Deductions matter mainly to people who make very large gifts.

• Don’t be afraid to take a risk. We agree! But Gwinn’s other tips seem to discourage taking one.

• Don’t spread yourself too thin [sic]. Gwinn advises reducing our number of gifts from 10 to three so that fewer dollars go to overhead.

But the cost to a small local charity of asking for money isn’t enough to be a “strategic” consideration. And there are few things a charity leader hates hearing more than: “We love your work, but we’re giving to fewer groups this year, so you’re off our list, sorry.” We’ve worked with many nonprofits and guarantee that a gift of any amount matters. If you care about an organization, give.

• Don’t feel you have to go it alone. Gwinn likes Tupperware party-style giving. So-called “giving circles” can be fun for donors with time to spare, but they’re no fun for the charities that get cut from a donor’s giving because they weren’t chosen by the circle. And circles sometimes divert dollars from charities to professional consultants and organizations that sell their services to help giving circles give.

Better advice: Give to what you care about. If you need to learn more, call the charity or ask friends what they know. That really is simple giving.

Charlie Bernstein and Ellen Ryan are a semi-retired Augusta couple with backgrounds in nonprofit management and fundraising who give to charity.

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