3 Tips for Breaking Patterns this Giving Season

This article was originally posted in the fall 2019 edition of the Smart Giver Newsletter. To view the newsletter, click here

Earlier this year, we hosted FORUM 2019: Breaking Patterns—a gathering for Minnesota’s engaged and passionate civic-minded leaders. Why “Breaking Patterns” you might ask? Well, we knew we needed to explore power and patterns of behavior in order to set the stage for real and lasting change. FORUM 2019: Breaking Patterns was refreshing and inspiring, with 89% of attendees indicating that the event sparked meaningful discussion and thoughts for the future. To view the full event recap, click here

3 Tips for Breaking Patterns This Giving Season

As we learn and grow from each event, our hope is that the ideas and creative solutions extend beyond the event itself. So, as we think about breaking patterns of behavior this giving season, here are three patterns that we hope you’ll consider. 

1) Move from overhead conversations to authentic relationships

“Breaking patterns means deep, meaningful relationships that go beyond habitual patterns of behavior.” – FORUM 2019 attendee

We love building donor-nonprofit relationships and helping donors make smart and informed giving decisions to causes they care about. However, leading with the overhead question—How much goes towards programming versus admin and fundraising—when inquiring about a new nonprofit partner, isn’t the best first question. This data point isn’t the sole indicator of nonprofit effectiveness. In fact, it’s just one of our twenty-five Accountability Standards® for nonprofit strength. So, how can we move from habitual conversations about overhead and admin expenses to authentic relationships and partnerships with the causes we care about? 

Let’s start with understanding and appreciating overhead. Overhead can include things like HR, communications, technology, office supplies, fundraising, rent, utilities, and so much more! In fact, under-investing in these areas has been consistently linked to poor organizational performance. So, instead of asking about overhead percentages, consider the following: 

  • The vision, mission, and values of the organization and how they align with your personal values and beliefs; 
  • The quality of the organization’s programs and the value they add to the community;
  • The organization’s staff and board, and whether they’re reflective of the community being served; and
  • Their involvement with Charities Review Council’s nonprofit review process.

Leading with these questions will strengthen the donor-nonprofit relationship and lead to a more informed giving decision. 

2) Allow space for innovation 

Part of engaging in an authentic relationship with the causes you care about means allowing them the space to try new things, come up with innovative solutions, and learn from failures. As tweeted by a FORUM 2019 attendee, “What can funders/donors do to create tolerance for failure in order to make innovation possible?” Great question! As a donor, are you creating a relationship and environment that fosters and encourages innovation? This giving season, consider how you can partner with causes you care about as they learn, grow, and experiment with innovative solutions to address community needs. 

3) Remember that everyone has something to give

“Everyone has something to learn and something to offer.” –  Maria De La Cruz at FORUM 2019: Breaking Patterns

Giving of your time, talents, connections, and financial resources are all ways that you can support your favorite causes. “Giving” doesn’t always mean “giving money,” although that’s important, too. So many nonprofits are in need of volunteers or skills-based contributions of talent and services. Consider what you might be able to bring to the table that is uniquely you and reach out to partner with your local nonprofit. As Maria shared at the FORUM, “Changing the world often feels out of reach, but it is possible. We believe that it is the dreamers, organizers, advocates, and artists who will change our world.” So, go out and change the world in whatever way you can, smart givers. Happy giving season! 

Mark your calendar for these upcoming giving holidays!

Smart Giving Tip: Don’t forget to use our list of reviewed nonprofits to inform your giving decisions. 

  • Thursday, November 14th, 2019 – Support Minnesota nonprofits and schools on Give to the Max Day
  • Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019 – Don’t forget about Giving Tuesday, an international day of charitable giving.

Looking for an older article?

We're in the process of migrating our blog. If you're looking for an older entry, please visit the archive to search for it.

Get our latest and greatest monthly!


Charities Review Council

Our mission is building donor and nonprofit relationships for strong, vibrant and just communities. We envision healthy communities for all, benefiting from effective and trustworthy nonprofits that are supported by a well-informed public’s generosity.

Let’s Connect

1915 Highway 36 W Ste 133 • Roseville, Minnesota 55113-2709
Phone: (651) 224–7030 • E-mail: info@smartgivers.org

Privacy Policy (5/9/19) • Terms of Use (5/9/19)

Log In