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The fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral

The fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral

Shock and sadness swelled inside me as I watched the video footage of Notre-Dame Cathedral ablaze on Monday evening. Like many, I’ve stood in awe of the ancient structure — a medieval building built by the hands of thousands between 1160 and 1260 that today is one of the most widely recognized symbols of Paris, France, and European culture.

Just hours into the wake of the devastation, hope emerged. Calls to restore the heavily damaged Notre-Dame to its symbolic majesty were answered with pledges of financial support. Individuals, businesses, and foundations across the globe pledged more than $300 million within the first 24 hours of the fire. The speed of the philanthropic response to support Notre Dame not only reinforces the notion that the many throughout the world view the cathedral as belonging to the whole of mankind, but also emphasizes that in today’s digital world, we can move quickly to raise money for causes close to our hearts.

I read that on Sunday, a GoFundMe campaign to help three black churches rebuild from arson had raised less than $50,000. But after the outpouring of generosity on the world stage in response to the burning of Notre-Dame Cathedral, donations for the small Louisiana houses of worship skyrocketed to $1 million in just two days. Sometimes it just takes a reminder — a nudge — to get the attention of philanthropists.

I often wonder what magic ingredients must be present to create such a groundswell of interest and support, as there are so many causes that deserve our collective and thoughtful action, but never mobilize the same kind of response.  Some might say that these other causes don’t rise to the same level of global significance, while others will argue that so many worthy endeavors suffer from their inability to adequately share their message.  I guess after more than thirty years of trying to find common ground between important causes and those willing to open their pocket books and wallets in support, I am still looking for a way to make it happen more often.

I feel fortunate to live in a time when responses to tragedies can move so quickly. However, I see tragedies each and every day — parents who don’t have the money to purchase food for their families, people in a downward spiral as a result of a drug or alcohol addiction, service men and women with PTSD who don’t have access to mental health services. If the world can move so quickly to rebuild Notre-Dame, can we prioritize our community’s problems and work more swiftly to address them?

I know we can.

David Aft is the president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia. He has worked in the nonprofit field for over twenty-five years and is a recognized resource and noted speaker on charitable enterprise, civics, fundraising strategy and community development.

January is for GIVING, Too


You have probably heard that 50 percent of the nation’s nonprofit organizations receive a majority of their annual donations in the weeks between October and December. It’s true. Most of us haven’t really thought about this pattern of giving, but I have, and I encourage you to think about it, as well, because it isn’t ideal for many organizations.


Every December, there’s a big push to send end-of-year donations, as charities near and far vie for our attention and our wallets.

The holiday season adds its own demands, with countless groups working to make the holidays a little better for our less fortunate friends and neighbors. Many also “time” their giving to maximize the tax advantages of their charitable donations. 

But then January comes and the “goodwill toward man” spirit in our souls is shaded by the exhaustion that follows the holiday rush. It takes a few weeks to get back into the groove of regular, day-to-day operations. It also takes a little while for our pocketbooks to recover from this very special, but sometimes expensive season. Our focus shifts and donating to charities is the last thing on our minds. After all, we wrote all those checks in December, right?

In the meantime, many nonprofit organizations are starving for funds in January. Their needs didn’t go away just because we turned a page on the calendar. For example, extra donations in December to a food bank mean they can feed more food-insecure individuals and families, and that’s usually what happens. Not every organization is in a position to save those extra donations, like squirrels stowing away acorns for the winter. For many charities, the transition from December to January moves them from a feast to a famine scenario.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are four ways to help keep your favorite charities afloat all year round.

1.   AUTOPILOT—Consider setting up your bank account to automatically send your donations to your favorite charities each month. For example, instead of writing one $500 check in December to the Humane Society, consider setting up your bank account to send them $41.67 each month.

2.   A LITTLE PLANNING—Make it a New Year’s Day tradition to sit down with your family and plan out your family’s charitable gifts for the year. This will not only help shape a roadmap for your giving throughout the year and prevent the end-of-year giving frenzy, but it will also teach your children the importance of thoughtful, consistent charitable giving. You will be shaping the next generation of philanthropists with their involvement and participation.

3.   CLUBS AND ASSOCIATIONS—If you are a member of a club or association that raises money for community causes, consider making a motion to have the gift be delivered at the beginning of the year, as opposed to other times.

4.   THE TIMING OF FUNDRAISERS—If you are a volunteer with a church or nonprofit organization, sit down with the executive director and help them schedule fundraisers throughout the year to help keep a steady stream of donations coming in.

I want to be clear. I am not suggesting you stop or reduce your end-of-year charitable giving practices. I just want to encourage you to be mindful and remember the nonprofits of the world in January, February, and March—when their donations drop.

By changing our giving practices a bit, we can ensure the charities that care for so many, stay healthy all year long.

David Aft is the president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia. He has worked in the nonprofit field for over twenty-five years and is a recognized resource and noted speaker on charitable enterprise, civics, fundraising strategy and community development.

WHEN to Give

by David Aft

Every holiday season, I find myself in more than one conversation about charitable giving. Knowing I have dedicated my life to fostering both civic enterprise and promoting charitable giving, friends, family members, and business associates often corner me at holiday gatherings and ask candid questions about the legitimacy, effectiveness, and efficiency of dozens of local and global organizations on their radars.

A few weeks ago, when someone asked my advice about where he could donate some money to achieve the greatest impact, I shared a short list of groups I have worked with over the years—each with impressive records in impact and accountability. And then I paused and went a step further.

I told him that he could increase the relative value of his gift by waiting a month or two to make it. Let me explain.

For most people, the decision of which organizations to give to often trumps when to give and even, how to give. My argument is that all three of these decision factors are equal in importance.

Today, I will focus on the when part of the equation.

Most donors are “value driven”—they want the best return on their investment—and relatively speaking, their contribution could possibly hold more “charitable value” to an organization in the leaner months following the holiday season, when less dollars are circulating through the organization.

Many people are filled with the giving spirit in December, and they make a few year-end donations to help others, and perhaps, because they are looking for a few more tax deductions—not that there is anything wrong with that. As a result, many organizations are “financially fatter” at the close of the year than they are in the following springtime. So again, the aptly described “season of giving” may not always be the time when charities and the important causes they champion need our help the most.

It brings me great pleasure to be able to give back, but like other folks, I want to give back with great value and confidence. I encourage all prospective donors to consider not just who they give to, but when they give, because the timing of our charitable contributions matters.

In my next blog post, I’ll share a few thoughts about the different ways donors approach their giving, with an eye for making large charitable gifts manageable. Stay tuned.

David Aft is the president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia. He has worked in the nonprofit field for over twenty-five years and is a recognized resource and noted speaker on charitable enterprise, civics, fundraising strategy and community development