There are nearly 800 registered nonprofits out here on the Olympic Peninsula; not all nonprofits are or are required to be charities. The state of Washington defines charitable organizations as “… any entity that solicits or collects contributions from the general public where the contribution is or is purported to be used to support a charitable purpose …. “Churches and political organizations are not charitable organizations under Washington law but they are required to follow some of the same rules outlined in RCW 19.09. In Washington charities must have a purpose that is beneficial to the community and the list of possible beneficial areas is long. It includes, environmental, humanitarian, patriotic, or civic purposes, the support of amateur sports competition, the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, the advancement of social welfare, or the benefit of law enforcement personnel, firefighters, and other persons who protect public safety. In short, almost any aspect of human endeavor can be corralled under the general term “charitable purpose.”
The holiday season is a time when many of us consider providing a gift of support to one or more of those charitable organizations whose “charitable purpose” appeals to us. This is a good thing because many of these organizations depend heavily on donations from the public or purchases of items that support them as Jake Beattie of the Northwest Maritime Center pointed out in a recent letter to the Port Townsend Leader.
We have many nonprofit charitable organizations on the Peninsula working hard every day to enrich our lives. OlyCAP is a favorite local charity of ours and it reaches out to the community through the Peninsula Home Fund and other programs aimed at people in poverty. There are plenty of others that address other interests in our lives. Centrum offers us the arts and education, the Maritime Center, Marine Science Center and Jefferson County Historical Society help us maintain a link to our past and educate us in areas that have been so important to our development here. Jumping Mouse and the Gathering Place help residents with special needs. Habitat for Humanity helps people obtain housing and UGN and United Way offer a broad, community based approach to helping nonprofits. If you have a passion, a need, or even just a desire to help out, you can likely find a community based nonprofit here that shares your interest.
When you decide to give in support of local organization you generally know a fair amount about it or know people who do. If you are not familiar with an organization’s structure or charitable purpose or concerned about the management or finances of the organization, there are resources that can help you understand. Washington’s Secretary of State maintains a website where you can look up charities in Washington to see if they are registered, assess their financial health and determine how much of their income is spent on program services. There are also websites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator that can help you find detailed information on charities nationwide. These resources will not ignite your passion, but they can help you direct your support more effectively.
Finally, if there are areas you really care about, consider offering the most precious gift of all – your time. Most charitable organizations need the service of volunteers as much or more than they need financial support. Whether it is financial support, time or expertise, giving to those organizations that further your interests can be a very rewarding thing to do.