Giving Tuesday is on November 28, and the end of the year is following close behind: ‘Tis the season for annual appeal letters flooding your inbox!

When you open those letters and find nonprofit organizations you feel connected to, consider helping fund their operations through unrestricted donations.

Since 2015, Camden National Bank’s Hope@Home program has given more than $750,000 in unrestricted funds to 50+ shelters to help those without a home find the services and support they need.

Why did we make these funds unrestricted? It’s simple: We have significant trust in an executive director’s ability to deploy the funds as they see fit. Whether it’s to purchase new beds, pay a salary, or create a unique program, we’re confident they will use the funds to better their organization and ultimately help those they serve. They are the experts and leaders in their sector, and we’re committed to helping our communities.

We also believe in an organization’s ability to recruit and retain a highly respected board of directors responsible for governing its mission and planning for the future. An executive director’s time is best used operating, administrating, and creatively serving the community. We don’t want to “add to staff” — we know they are encumbered with limited human capital.

As the director of our bank’s giving program, I can appreciate the challenges nonprofits face, especially after emerging from the recent pandemic and the heartbreaking event we all experienced in Lewiston. We quickly learned nonprofits must be flexible and adaptable as they respond to rapidly emerging needs, rather than be burdened by administrative obstacles and specialty reporting.

Nonprofits need us to give without expecting so much in return. If you want to help, join a committee or volunteer as a board member to provide in-depth knowledge of your area of expertise. Ultimately, you need to trust the nonprofit executive director to appropriately steward your funds. If the organization is transparent and communicates often, you will be amazed at how valuable your donation can be to their goals.

Strategies for nonprofits

I highly encourage more nonprofit organizations to ask for unrestricted donations using these strategies:

  • Be transparent. Prove to individual and corporate donors that you’ll use their money wisely through documented achievements.
  • Communicate. Consider ongoing communication through email or other media channels to highlight successes and spending both actively and consistently.
  • Number sense. Present your healthy service expense ratio (the same one publicly reported on Form 990) to demonstrate funds are used for the mission rather than administration.
  • Promote. Highlight unrestricted corporate donors in your newsletters. Give those donors an extra plug and maybe others will allocate their donations accordingly. Every corporation likes to see their logo on display…just don’t make logo soup!

Renée Smyth is the executive vice president and chief experience and marketing officer at Camden National Bank. She chairs their Donation Committee and is president of The Bank of Maine Foundation. She actively volunteers her time and energy with numerous nonprofit organizations.