Vail Daily column: The giving season

By Butch Mazzuca | Vail Daily | November 8, 2015 | Link To Article

dt.common.streams.StreamServer.clsThe holiday season with all of its hoopla and attendant activities will soon be upon us. The ski mountains will open, we’ll be eating turkey and watching football on the last Thursday in November, friends and families will crisscross the nation, many will attend wall-to-wall Christmas parties (or holiday parties for the politically correct) and finish the season with New Year’s celebrations and, of course, more football on New Year’s Day. Still, there’s one aspect American culture that’s seldom discussed openly yet widely engaged in — charitable giving.

Charitable giving in America begins increasing in September and reaches its high watermark during the holiday season, with December being the No. 1 month for charitable contributions.

So to whom do Americans give? Well, just about everyone, evinced by the World Giving Index 2014, published in November by the Charities Aid Foundation, the United States is the most giving nation on planet earth — and what a wonderful attribution that is.

Each of us has a favorite charity and everyone has their own reasons for donating time, money or goods to worthy causes. But are some causes more worthy than others? Probably, but that’s for each individual to ascertain.

Like most people, my wife Bobbi and I have our favorites, and one is the Marine Corps Semper Fi Fund, a charity providing immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to post-9/11 wounded, critically ill and injured service members of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.

Please note the words Semper Fi (the motto of the Marine Corps — “always faithful”) indicating the charity’s roots that lie with the U.S. Marine Corps. When the Semper Fi Fund first started, the focus was on helping Marines and Sailors, but as their case managers were encountering severely wounded patients from all branches of the service (often in the hospital bed next to a wounded Marine) they opened their assistance to the Army, Air Force and Coast Guard as well.

The Semper Fi Fund helps defray the expenses incurred during hospitalization, rehabilitation and recovery; it assists with the expenses associated with the purchase of specialized equipment, adaptive vehicles and home modifications; and educates the public about the special needs of our injured service members and their families. Since its founding, the mission of the Semper Fi Fund has remained constant: To serve those who preserve our freedom.

As a former active duty Marine, it’s only natural I would gravitate toward this fund. But before Bobbi and I decided to make this one of our automatic monthly donations, we decided to “check ’em out” first. We went online to Charity Navigator, an organization that rates U.S. based charities by evaluating two broad areas of performance, their financial health and their accountability and transparency.

Charity Navigator ratings show potential donors how efficiently it believes a charity will use their support, how well it has sustained its programs and services over time, and perhaps most importantly, their level of commitment to being accountable and transparent.

A friend of mine tells me the first thing he evaluates when contemplating giving to a particular charity is executive compensation. While I agree executive compensation is a factor in determining a charity’s “worthiness,” it doesn’t always tell the entire story.

Informed donors realize charities need to pay their top leaders a competitive salary in order to attract and retain the kind of talent needed to run multi-million dollar organizations and produce results so they don’t review the CEO’s compensation at face value; rather they benchmark it by comparing it to similar-sized organizations engaged in similar work.

So when evaluating a charity, it’s important put the charity’s executive compensation into context by examining the overall performance of the organization. Personally, I would much rather contribute to a charity with a well-paid CEO that is meeting its goals than to support a charity with an underpaid CEO that fails to deliver on its promises. It’s part of my conservative bent that I don’t really care how much money someone else makes so long as the results warrant that particular level of compensation.

It would be presumptuous of me to promote the Semper Fi Fund or any other charity for that matter — but I do want to point out that there’s an organization (Charity Navigator) that help us make informed decisions about where to donate. In fact, one of the more excellent features on their website is a list of the 10 best practices of savvy donors.

Giving is a very personal matter, and making donations during the holiday season when there are so many “once a year” expenses may dissuade us from even thinking about charitable giving. But what better time to re-think and evaluate how we might benefit our fellow man—especially when we have so much?

Quote of the day: “If you haven’t any charity in your heart, you have the worse kind of heart trouble.” — Bob Hope

Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at