This op-ed by Liz Dozier, Founder & CEO of Chicago Beyond, ran on December 22, 2022 in Blavity News.

Over the last few years, “year-end giving” has dominated the fundraising space. Nonprofits and advocacy organizations around the globe try to make their case to donors on why they should offer up their support in a crowded market. But as more and more organizations pop into your inbox, it can become overwhelming to see where you might make the most impact.

You want to be able to make your dollar go far, but how do you really make that happen? The answer might surprise you.

For a good portion of the last decade, I’ve worked to disrupt the traditional methods of philanthropic giving by leading an organization that supports the abundance of local BIPOC leaders doing on-the-ground work across Chicago’s communities. The best way to stretch your support goes far beyond dollars and cents. It’s about reframing how we think about “giving” overall.

There’s obviously an abundance of organizations worthy of your support. So as you consider where to direct support this holiday giving season, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Approach giving with a justice mindset.

Begin by asking why societal issues exist and why they remain in place. This can help shift from a charity mindset (helping someone who needs help) to a justice mindset (helping mitigate a broader societal issue). The most important thing to remember is that “giving back” shouldn’t be viewed as charity. However you contribute to a cause, you’re investing in justice. This alternative pushes one to consider the past realities of why the restoration of a community, funding and additional support is so needed in the first place.

2. Seek out hyperlocal grassroots nonprofits and leaders that may not have a large funding community.

Is the organization embedded in its community? Is the organization led by people (staff, executive director, board) with lived experience and expertise with the issue they’re addressing? These kinds of organizations tend to understand the nuances of the challenges and, because they are the most proximate, can more creatively address the real issues, not just the surface-level challenges.

3. Trust that communities know what communities need.

Ask questions and be aware of where your support is directed, but have trust in those leading the organization to make the right decision for them and their mission when allocating funds.

4. Pay attention to language.

Words matter. The ways in which an organization talks about or represents the people or communities they serve is an indicator of how they view the relationship. People who rely on services from a nonprofit should never implicitly or explicitly describe a community as “needing to be fixed” or “being saved.” Look at the communications an organization promotes via email, their social media or website. Does the language and imagery used uplift the humanity of the individuals seeking their services, or does it capitalize on hardships?

5. Keep an open mind when measuring impact.

There’s a common saying, “you are what you measure,” and the truth is many organizations are limited by a narrow definition of success. It makes sense that people might want to donate to groups that have the ability to share traditional methods of measurement through stats, such as: “we’ve fed 3 million people in the last year,” or “we’ve reached 10 people in need because of your donation.” However, there are other ways to measure if an organization is doing impactful work that don’t involve reach or scope.

Three things to look for include the following:

1. The most important insights are not always easily measurable. Instead of looking at the measures that are easy to count, look for other indicators such as qualitative stories and who the organization is seeking to impact.

2. Who defines and validates the organization’s success? Is it an external body asking questions outside-in or are their signs of impact coming from people most directly impacted by the organizations’ work? Those closest will give you the most accurate signals, even if that feedback isn’t summed up in a clean metric.

3. Finally, how are you considering not just the immediate, but the longer-term effect of the work? Inequity exists because of centuries of harmful practices that won’t change overnight, even in the most optimistic scenarios. How might you consider the organization’s broader impact not only on the urgent needs today, but also its impact on the root causes such as the systems, beliefs and narratives that hold inequity in place in the first place?

6. Deepen your support beyond one day.

Consistency is crucial. Hyperlocal grassroots organizations need your support year-round, not just around the holidays. See how you can get involved more regularly, become more proximate to their community, listen and learn. Become an ambassador: Share their content on social media, volunteer in your spare time and tell your friends about their local events.

Eradicating the issues communities face through philanthropic work isn’t about checking boxes, writing one check, and setting out to “fix people.” Understanding the power of authentic and consistent partnerships is necessary if we want to make a long-lasting impact. As the year-end fundraising season continues, ask questions, be curious and make sure that any group you contribute to values the humanity and prosperity of those they serve.