Thanks and Giving Sunday Column

As originally published in the Our Towns section of The State Journal-Register on Sunday, November 22, 2015.

John KelkerThanksgiving is the perfect time to reflect on the past year and be grateful for the support of our friends, family and neighbors. Too often, we become so wrapped up in our daily lives that it takes a tragic event or a holiday to remember those who have brought so much meaning to our lives.

On behalf of the board of directors and staff at United Way, thank you to our friends, volunteers and donors for their commitment to our community and support during the past year.

Thanksgiving also represents the beginning of the holiday season and what many consider the season of giving. During this time, members of our community tend to think about those in need and the families in our community who are struggling. As a result, we see people from all walks of life joining together to lend their support to community causes and organizations.

For me, this time of year and the generosity of our neighbors is inspiring. Perhaps this is because people are more aware of the needs of others, or perhaps, it’s simply the willingness of our neighbors to find a few extra hours to volunteer.

At United Way, we wouldn’t be doing our job if we did not help to encourage this generosity and find ways make it easier to lend a hand. However, we would also not be doing our job if we didn’t offer a few tips for everyone to consider before making a year-end gift or volunteering during this joyous season. As a result, we’ve put together a few tips to support your generosity:

  • Research the charity or program before considering a gift. Unfortunately, there are individuals who take advantage of your generosity during the holiday season. However, websites like guidestar.org can help you verify the legitimate tax status of an organization and provide access to IRS provided tax returns and other financial information.
  • Know what your gift will support. Legitimate, well-run charities welcome the opportunity to discuss how your gift will help and will gladly provide information on the impact of your gift. If an organization cannot tell you how your gift is being used, then you should feel comfortable saying no.
  • Consider support for local programs. At United Way, we believe in the power of community and feel the greatest gift you can make is one that leaves your community a better place to work, live and raise children. When you give local, your gift stays in our community, supports our neighbors, strengthens our economy and creates local jobs. You can find profiles of many, if not most, of our local charities on our volunteer website, Get Connected. Simply visit our website, springfieldunitedway.org and click on volunteer.
  • Involve your children by teaching them about importance of community, philanthropy and volunteering. Teach them not to judge others, but to seek to understand the challenges others may be facing.
  • Don’t stretch your own pocketbook in the name of generosity. One of our priorities as an organization is to help individuals obtain and maintain financial stability. Our hope is for families to live within their means, including giving within their means. There are many ways to help a local organization or make a community a better place to live. In fact, you can find many local volunteer opportunities at Get Connected.
  • Finally, remember that the needs of our community extend beyond the end of the year. Although your generosity is deeply appreciated during the holiday season, the needs of our community exist year-round. If you are considering a year-end gift to a local organization, consider the value of establishing a monthly (or per paycheck) gift.

All of us at United Way of Central Illinois are thankful to you and our partners for allowing us to continue to raise awareness for programs in our local community that are helping to build a brighter future for our children.

Thanks to your generosity, United Way continues to bring together people to protect services vital to the immediate basic needs of families, while making long term investment in education, financial stability and health – the building blocks for a good quality of life.

To the thousands of people in our community who have supported or worked with United Way – Thank you for your investment in the future of our community.

John Kelker is the president at United Way of Central Illinois. Look for United Way columns weekly in Our Towns.