BY JEFF PICKERING Guest columnist
"A nonprofit organization ought to be run like a business."
I hear this comment often in my role as President and CEO of Kern Community Foundation. However, I do not necessarily agree with it. Instead, I believe that a nonprofit organization ought to be run like a good business, especially if I am going to make a personal donation to support its mission. Like many people, I have limited personal financial resources and want to see results from the charitable investments I make.
According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are approximately 1,000 registered nonprofit charitable organizations in Kern County. Annually, these organizations collect close to $300 million in contributions to support their missions, which include programs in education, healthcare, the arts, social services, conservation and faith-based initiatives.
Where do most of the contributions to Kern's charitable organizations come from? Despite no current statistics measuring the economic impact of charitable giving in Kern County, national studies provide some clues. In 2010, 71 percent of all gifts to charity in the United States came from individual donors while another 8 percent came from charitable bequests. In Kern County, almost $250 million was given to local charities by people like you and me in just one year.
Choosing which organizations to support is a personal decision. To find the best charitable investments, it helps to get organized. Begin by identifying which causes are important to you. In my case, my wife and I care about basic human needs, health care and medical research, the arts, Catholic education, and programs that advance and disseminate knowledge of the Holocaust.
Next, make a list of the charitable organizations you support and the amount of money you give to each on an annual basis. Compare the two lists -- the causes you care about should relate to the organizations you give to.
For example, this year our family will make modest gifts to support Kern Community Foundation, the Golden Empire Gleaners, the Junior League of Bakersfield, Bakersfield Memorial Hospital Foundation, the American Cancer Society, the Bakersfield Museum of Art, Saint Francis Parish and School and the National Holocaust Museum. In our case, we will organize our giving through the Pickering Family Fund, which we established at Kern Community Foundation for an annual fee of about $250.
One way to determine if the organizations on your list are good charitable investments is by looking them up on Kern Community Foundation's online Nonprofit Search at www.kernfoundation.org. Here you will find current information about the governance, leadership and management, programs and finances of many local organizations. You can even use the site to donate directly to your favorite local cause using a credit card.
You should also assess whether these characteristics are present among the organizations on your list.
* They demonstrate accomplishments, not just activities.
* They set and hit targets, rather than pledging their best efforts to do so.
* They involve "sparkplug individuals" who lead change by example, setting the pace by which results are measured.
* They have energy -- a solid predictor of successful organizations.
* They practice self-help by doing everything possible either to work themselves out of a job or to become sustainable.
* They find ways to solve tough problems.
* They learn.
Finally, celebrate your accomplishments. When a nonprofit organization delivers a satisfying return for the investment you have made, tell them so. Better yet, tell a friend or colleague. Invite them to make a gift too. The dividends will be great, and you will join a growing community of donors that is growing philanthropy for the benefit of our community.
Jeff Pickering is President and CEO of Kern Community Foundation. He can be reached at email@example.com. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.