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Give, and give wisely

by Liz Moore
| November 26, 2023 12:00 AM

From 2023’s Giving Tuesday until midnight, Dec. 31, donors will be more generous than at any other time of year. An estimated 25-30% of annual nonprofit revenue will come in.

Not unlike year-end sales for retailers, year-end philanthropy is critical to the financial stability of nonprofits, including those in Kalispell. 

Montana has some unique characteristics which may make this even more true. We are geographically huge with a sparse population. Though wages statewide have risen over the past few years, they are still relatively low. These factors play into the limited government funding available to meet community needs. No matter the reasons, there is simply not enough to go around. This is as true in Kalispell as it is in the rest of the state. 

Philanthropy alone cannot solve this problem, but it does make every dollar given to nonprofits in the valley more precious. And it makes it even more important that people know how to give to an organization with confidence that their money will be stewarded well. Here are some pointers for giving wisely through the season.  

First – start with research. A nonprofit’s website is a good starting point but unless you already know about the organization, you’ll want more. The easiest place to find more is a free website called GuideStar. GuideStar is simple to navigate and is designed to promote transparency within the nonprofit sector, an ethic most nonprofits embrace. Here you can search by name of organization to see a nonprofit’s 990, 990-N or 990-EZ, which is the tax return almost all nonprofits are required to file. The 990 is always a year or so behind, but it’s still a good starting point for a review of finances and programs.  

 The front page of the 990 has a checkbox indicating whether a nonprofit is a 501(c)(3) or some other type of nonprofit. This is important because contributions to 501(c)(3) organizations are tax deductible. Additionally, 501(c)(3) organizations can never endorse candidates or attempt to influence election outcomes, which is important to know. Other information on the 990 includes a nonprofit’s sources of revenue, its programs, names of board members, executive compensation and more.  

In addition to the organization’s website and their 990, you can learn a lot simply by googling the nonprofit’s name. Additionally, Charity Navigator or other nonprofit rating websites might have more information, depending on the size of the nonprofit. Ask community members what they know, including board members. It’s fair to satisfy your curiosity about an organization as you consider donating.  

Once you know where you want to donate, expand the joy of giving by asking others to join in. Teaching children and grandchildren about giving can double the satisfaction generosity brings and become a wonderful tradition. Making a collective donation as a book group, a Thursday morning coffee group, or as a high school service project is meaningful and deepens the sense of community between group members. Research shows helping others, including giving, releases endorphins — the “feel good” hormone. Generosity is fun!   

Nonprofits in the Flathead Valley are the fabric of the community. They educate young parents, create attainable housing, support the arts, fight cancer, rescue animals, prevent abuse, deliver food to seniors, shelter youth, and so much more. Importantly, they are also economic drivers. In 2021, 203 nonprofits employed 5,605 people in Flathead County, contributing $353.6 million to the local wage base. In all, nonprofits generated more than $935.6 million in revenue – much of which cycled through the local community numerous times.   

 Take a moment and imagine Kalispell without these nonprofits: the food bank, the Humane Society, Abbie Shelter, the Hockaday, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Samaritan House, Lighthouse, Glacier Symphony, Head Start, the hospital, every church in town, and so many more. Add to these the all-volunteer organizations such as soccer, 4-H, Little League, the parent/teacher associations and others. And this only scratches the surface. The point is that Kalispell simply wouldn’t be the community it is without nonprofits. 

None of us can give to every cause, but hopefully the information provided here is useful as you seek to narrow your choices. Philanthropy is very personal.  It allows each of us to express and support what we value most for our community. Kalispell nonprofits need our support during this giving season. Thank you for being a part of making Kalispell the vibrant and thriving community so many people love and call home.  

Liz Moore is executive director for the Montana Nonprofit Association.