Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Callie Webber’s 5-Step Guide to Charitable Giving

Make a Donation and Get a Free Book

Yep, that's my offer: Donate $20 or more to Operation Joy’s upcoming “Joy Run 5K Race/Walk,” and as a thank you I’ll send you one free, autographed copy of A Penny for Your Thoughts or any one of the other books in the Million Dollar Mysteries series! You can find all the details, links, and more at the end of this post. First, I’d like to share a bit about donations, charities—and what they have to do with my mystery novels.

The thing is, as I’ve been working to help spread the word about this fundraising event, which is being sponsored by my husband’s company and will go to help local children in need, my mind keeps turning to Callie Webber, the fictional heroine of my Million Dollar Mysteries. As an attorney and private investigator for a mysterious philanthropist, Callie knows a thing or two about giving money wisely; after all, her job is to investigate charities to see if they’re worthy of donations from her boss.

Giving Away the Big Bucks

In this excerpt from A Penny for Your Thoughts, book #1 in the five-book series, Callie has just wrapped up an investigation of a worthy charity and is now handing over a sizeable grant on behalf of her employer…

“I’m here to present you with this check,” I said to the mother-son duo at the helm of the group, “from the J.O.S.H.U.A. Foundation to Transition Resources in the amount of $300,000.” 
I held out the check, and neither of them moved for a moment. Then suddenly they began jumping up and down and hugging each other and screaming and cheering and embracing me. It was one of the more jubilant reactions I had gotten in the last few months, and I allowed myself to relax and go with it, silently thanking the Lord for good people like these, people who had a gift for taking God’s resources and using them in wonderful ways. 
“We can buy a truck,” the son said. “That’ll cut our moving costs by 38 percent!” 
“We can do a lot more than that,” the mother said, counting off on her fingers the plans they had itemized in their grant proposal. “Extended counseling, bigger facilities, more caregivers...” 
They listed ideas for the money, lobbing them back and forth like a tennis ball. They asked if they should call the local newspaper to have a photographer and a reporter record this event. I told them no, that our foundation preferred to do things in a more discreet manner. 
“So what was it about our little company that caught your eye?” the mother asked, finally settling down into her chair and pausing to catch her breath. “We didn’t think we stood a chance. We just did the paperwork and sent it out on faith.” 
I took a deep breath, wondering how I could ever explain the way our foundation worked. I wasn’t exactly sure myself what the selec­tion process was. I only knew how my part of it worked: I received a sealed packet from my philanthropist boss, a packet full of informa­tion about a nonprofit organization to which he would like to make a donation. It was my job to verify the integrity of the place as thoroughly as possible. Sometimes that meant digging around a little, examining records, talking to people—occasionally even posing as a client or infiltrating the ranks as an employee. My eclectic employment history as a private investigator and then an attorney had trained me well for my job, and I was very good at what I did. When my research was finished, I was the one who gave the red or green light, and thus far the boss had relied completely on my recommendations. If I said a place was good, then he would commission me to write and deliver a check for an amount that could range as high as a million dollars. 
The amazing part was that my boss stayed out of the picture, remaining completely anonymous. He kept such a low profile, in fact, that even I didn’t know much about him beyond the basic facts. Tom and I had spoken on the phone hundreds of times, but we had never met face-to-face, nor did we have a need to. I left him to his privacy. 
“It’ll take days before this really begins to sink in,” the son was saying now, still staring at the check in wonder and grinning from ear to ear.“Whom can we thank for this money?” the mother asked. “I know a little about the J.O.S.H.U.A. Foundation, but is there someone in particular...” She let her voice trail off, looking to me for informa­tion. 
I smiled, clicked my briefcase shut, and stood.“The best way you can say thank you is to take that money and use it to further your mission as outlined in your grant proposal. The foundation believes strongly in what you’re trying to accomplish, and we just wanted to have a small part in furthering your efforts.” 
It was a speech I had made many times before, but it still never failed to bring a small lump into my throat. There were so many unsung heroes out in the world, people who had decided to dedicate their lives to helping others. The fact that I got to be the bearer of such good news was the very best part of what I did for a living.

Callie Webber’s 5-Step Guide to Charitable Giving

So how does Callie decide whether or not an organization is worthy of her employer’s money? Later in the same book, she is asked just that, and in response she outlines her basic process, which is as applicable to real life as it is to my fiction…

1. Check what percentage of the money the charity takes in is actually used toward the cause it supports. 

How do you figure out what that percentage is?  According to Kiplingeryou can start by checking the searchable databases of the Wise Giving Alliance, which is offered by the Better Business Bureau, and GuideStar, which is a group that gathers, organizes, and distributes information about U.S nonprofits. Between the two, you should be able to find information on numerous charities.

If neither of those sources work, you might try the charity’s own website, since most nonprofit organizations are required to make their IRS Form 990 available to the public.

2. Evaluate the percentage

Once you have that percentage, how do you know if it’s good or bad? Generally speaking, any charity that puts less than 35% of its money toward programs and services is poorly run and should not be considered worthy of your donations! Beyond that:

• The best-run charities will be putting at least 75% of their money toward programs and services. 
• Well-run charities will be putting at least 65% of their money toward programs and services. 
• Charities that put just 36-64% of their money toward programs and services should be evaluated more closely, especially with regard to criteria #3.

3. Determine the percentage norm for the type of charity involved.

Different kinds of charities have different resource and spending requirements, and that can affect their percentage in ways that might make them look worse than they actually are. 

For example, museums generally have higher administrative costs than the average nonprofit, thanks to the necessary expense of maintaining facilities and collections. Thus, for a charity that raises a red flag because it puts only, say, 50% of its donations toward programs and services, that percentage might be justified if that charity happens to be a museum. 

As another example, newer charities are going to have higher start-up costs than more established ones, and those costs can weigh more heavily on their percentage than might normally be expected.

4. See if the charity has signed itself up for any voluntary watchdog groups. 

It’s always a good sign when a charity has voluntarily opted to open itself up for third-party evaluations and ratings. For any group you’re interested in, search the databases at sites such as Charity Navigator or Charity Watch, both of which evaluate and rate nonprofit organizations. 

5. If possible try to determine whether or not the organization operates with a “service mentality.”

This last criteria is kind of difficult to explain, but here’s how Callie lays it out in a discussion over appetizers with two acquaintances…

“Once the math checks out, more often than not it’s simply a ‘mentality’,” I explained. “A way of thinking, of doing business.” 
Marion and Judith both studied me, their shrimp cocktails ignored, as I continued. 
“I usually start by reading their mission statement, then I look to see if they really seem to be living by it. I mean, I hate to call it intu­itive, but in a way, it is.” 
“You’ve been doing this a long time,” Marion replied. “I would imagine your instincts are fairly good.” 
“It’s not just that,” I said. “Really, anyone could do the same.”  
“You’ve lost me,” said Judith. 
“It’s the salaries. The benefits. The decor, even.” 
“The decor?” 
“For instance, is the office fancier than it needs to be? Are the salaries too far above the norm? When the executives travel, are they staying in Holiday Inns or Ritz Carltons? When an employee needs to go to a training session, is she going to one in the next state—or one in Hawaii?”
“What’s wrong with staying at Ritz Carltons?” Marion asked. “Those are lovely hotels.”
“But they’re very expensive,” I replied. “Nonprofit organizations should have a pervading mentality of saving money, of cutting cor­ners. Of using their resources for the things that are important.”
“So if you work for a nonprofit, you should suffer?” Judith asked. 
“No,” I replied. “But in a way you should begivingmore than you’re getting.Most really good nonprofits have one thing in common: They have a sort of ‘service’ mentality. The people work there because they want to make a difference in the world, not for personal gain. They work tirelessly and selflessly, even though it usu­ally means fewer perks and lower-than-average incomes.”
“That doesn’t seem fair,” Judith said.
“Put it this way,” I continued. “People in the nonprofit sector work just as hard as people in the for-profit sector, but they do it with the understanding that they will never be compensated at the for-profit level. But because they derive so much personal satisfaction from the work itself, they’re usually willing to accept it.”
“I think I understand,” said Marion.
“I reviewed a company in California once,” I said, “a nonprofit health care organization. On paper, it looked very good. But some­thing about the place bothered me.”
I took another bite of shrimp, thinking about all of the nonprofits I had examined, both good and bad. “I dug around and found a few disgrun­tled former employees who were able to point me in the right direc­tion. Turns out, the head of the organization liked to travel. Within five years he had gone to twelve international conferences in places like Zurich, Singapore, and Monte Carlo.”
“But if these conferences were necessary for doing his job—” 
“They weren’t,” I replied. “They were all only marginally related to his work.”
“But legal?”
“Yes, legal. And it turned out that he brought along his wife, four children, and their nanny on each of the trips. They stayed in some of the nicest hotels in the world, dined in some of the fanciest restau­rants, took in all of the sights—and the entire tab was always picked up by the agency.”
“Clearly, that man was getting more than he was giving. Needless to say, they were denied the grant.”

So there you have it, Callie’s guidelines for evaluating charities. I hope you’ll find them helpful as you manage your own donation dollars.

Free Book Offer

Which brings us back around to my original offer: Donate $20 or more to Operation Joy’s upcoming “Joy Run 5K Race/Walk,” and as a thank you I’ll send you one free, autographed copy of A Penny for Your Thoughts or any one of the other books in the Million Dollar Mysteries series! 

Note: Deadline to qualify is midnight October 18, 2018, so don't delay. Offer good while supplies last.

Here’s how it works:

1. Go to this link to let me know which of the five books in the series you would like to receive and where you want yours sent.

2. Go to this link and donate at least $20. 

3. Once you get the receipt for your donation via email, forward it to my assistant, Tara, at

That’s it! Once she verifies that your donation has been received, I’ll autograph and send out your book. 

Learn more about the run and the cause it supports here.

A Few More Links and Some Graphics For You to Share

• Get all the details and sign up to participate in the Joy Run 5K Race/Walk.

Volunteer to help out at the Joy Run 5K Race/Walk.

• Learn more about Operation Joy, the organization in charge of the walk.  

• Learn more about Child and Family Focus, the company sponsoring the walk. 

• Visit the Facebook page of Child and Family Focus.

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