Senior enjoying meal
A senior enjoying a meal at Serving Seniors. Courtesy of the nonprofit

Even in San Diego, there comes a time of year when the weather gets cooler and the days get shorter. We know the holiday season is here. Nonprofit organizations like Serving Seniors count on the warmth and generosity of our supporters during the holiday season. Donations during the last six weeks of the year can determine the services and support we can provide to San Diego’s older adults at risk or facing homelessness.

Giving Tuesday kicks it all off on Tuesday, Nov. 28. Nearly one third of all charitable giving takes place in December. One in four nonprofit organizations raise half of their total donations for the year during the holidays.

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After 28 years as CEO of Serving Seniors, it is humbling and overwhelming for all of us to know our work is supported through the generosity of our donors. Many of them share what little they have with us because they believe in our mission. These gifts are especially meaningful to me.

Before you give to any nonprofit, even Serving Seniors, you need to check to make sure your contribution won’t be mishandled, or even go to a fraudulent operation. I like to tell people to “kick the tires” first Maybe it’s an old-fashioned phrase, but it describes so well what I mean. If you prefer, take your nonprofit for a “road test.”

Here are some tips to be sure your contribution makes a real impact.

First, check with the watchdog websites which study and rate nonprofit organizations. Two of the best are Charity Navigator, and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. Any legitimate, reputable charity will encourage you to look up their ratings. Serving Seniors is proud to be top rated on both websites.

You can also check with the Internal Revenue Service and state nonprofit registries to check their operating status. In the State of California, the Attorney General regulates charities.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends doing an online search for a nonprofit’s name, or the type of service it provides, along with terms like “highly rated,” “complaints,” or “scam.”

Never click on links in social media or in emails or text messages you receive. If the group interests you, visit its website instead.

Never give your personal or financial information like a Social Security number, date of birth, or bank account number to anyone who contacts you asking for a donation. Instead, ask for information to be mailed to you for following up on your own.

Give using credit cards or checks. These can be tracked. Keep a record of all your donations and review your bank and credit card accounts frequently to make sure you aren’t charged more than you agreed to give or signed up for a monthly donation program when you didn’t mean to do so.

Be especially cautious about crowdfunding accounts like GoFundMe or social media posts. People setting up these accounts do not have to give any proof they are legitimate.

Nonprofit organizations are obligated to provide detailed information to interested donors. Serving Seniors makes our latest annual report available on our website. We encourage donors to read it. Reconsider giving to any nonprofit if you can’t get this information.

No organization should make you feel beholden to give by sending unsolicited “gifts” like mailing labels, greeting cards, or calendars. It is against the law to demand payment for unordered merchandise.

There are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States. Most work hard to address so many of society’s needs. Without the support of our donors, Serving Seniors wouldn’t have been able to step up and triple the number of meals served to our low-income and homeless older adult clients. These meals are a lifeline helping people get through many dark days.

The competition for donations during the holidays can seem intense. In our post-pandemic world with inflation hitting many people hard, nonprofits respond to increased demand for services. Once you’ve finished your road test and tire-kicking to find a nonprofit organization doing work you believe in, please give generously if you can.

In my role I’m fortunate to talk directly with the people who benefit from our services, and I know many other nonprofit leaders who see the impact of your donations daily. Without a doubt, every donation changes someone’s life for the better in a real and meaningful way. This feeling can warm up any chilly day.

Paul Downey is CEO of Serving Seniors, a San Diego-based nonprofit that helps seniors in poverty live healthy and fulfilling lives.