From the April 2005 issue of Entrepreneur

Give Some Time Before Giving a Dime

In a giving mood? Charitable donations have come a long way since 9/11, as relief efforts increasingly rely on technology to raise funds and ensure that donations are used appropriately.

"The Red Cross had a bit of a black eye coming out of 9/11 because so much money flowed in, and it wasn't all carefully managed," explains Charles Cumbaa, executive vice president of Blackbaud, a Charleston, South Carolina-based IT firm that has worked with more than 12,500 nonprofits. He explains that 9/11 was the first time online donations comprised a significant amount of the total funds raised for a relief effort. "But they've changed internal processes and technology to ensure that doesn't happen again."

Today, donating online enables Americans to give more efficiently--speeding the availability of funds to relief efforts as well as the acknowledgement of donations for tax purposes. What's more, donors can specify exactly where and how they want their money to be spent. "Organizations are now very careful to maintain separate funds and to allow people to donate to specific causes in specific regions--Hurricane Ivan vs. Hurricane Charlie," reports Cumbaa, who notes that online donations tend to factor heavily into disaster-related relief efforts like the recent tsunami in Asia.

The internet also lets donors check the veracity of nonprofits at sites like www.charitywatch.org and www.guidestar.org. "You can also learn a lot through the charity's website, by visiting or calling," says Cumbaa. "Charities know that providing accountability is crucial. They will be happy to help."

Keeping It On the Down Low

Sixteen words buried in the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley corporate governance law create a new protection from employer retaliation for employees reporting company monkey business--and a new challenge for management. Business owners must provide this protection and be able to prove they have done so.

Confide Services of Reston, Virginia, and several other companies act as the honest brokers, providing a secure and anonymous bridge between you and your staff while satisfying the new requirement. You contract with Confide, for example, to provide toll-free outside phone numbers or secure website addresses for your employees to use. Confide maintains the confidential responses. Regular reports are delivered to you and permanently held on file, proving your compliance.

The net result can benefit you in several ways. Staff members are encouraged to safely and confidentially report actions or procedures they believe are potential concerns. Morale improves by sending the message that you care. And you get new information about your business that can help you avoid potential potholes in the road, defuse ticking time bombs, improve operations and potentially enhance profitability.

In the end, these services help you satisfy the legal requirement for employee confidentiality and minimize business disruption, lost time and new record keeping.

 

In 2003, the average U.S. household spent

$40,817

on goods and services.
Statistic Source: Ad Age's "American Demographics"
  VCs invested roughly

$20 billion

in 2004.
Statistic Source: MoneyTree Survey

Jennifer Pellet is a New York City freelance writer specializing in business and finance.
Alan Portner is a 30-year veteran reporter and editor who has published daily newspapers in seven states.