Donating to charity so others can donate to charitable causes

Donating to charity so others can donate to charitable causes

Courtesy of News Graphic

By Samual Azinger

Just before the holidays, I had the opportunity to hear Tom “Mel” Stanton, executive director and namesake for Mel’s Charities, speak at a Rotary club meeting. My “I’m not taking on anything new” attitude immediately subsided to my “I wonder what I can do to help?” mentality.

I had, of course, heard about Mel’s Charities, but had wondered what they do and why they have such a significant presence in our communities. Now I know that they raise money in Ozaukee County and keep it in Ozaukee County to support causes to help people with special needs, sustain memorial scholarship funds and support human services. As they say, “What We Raise Here Stays Here.”

When opening our hearts and wallets, we often ask the question, “What part of this is going to pay for overhead and what is going towards the actual cause?” It’s not that we don’t understand that there is overhead associated with any organization, it’s that we want to know that our donations are being used responsibly.

To illustrate some organizations that are doing amazing things in the world, according to Charity Navigator, American Red Cross gives a little less than 90 percent towards the causes it supports, with 4.2 percent going to administrative expenses and 6.4 percent going towards fundraising expenses. In my opinion, that’s pretty good.

Girl Scouts of the USA raised my eyebrows last cookie season when I read on my box of cherished Thin Mints that 20 percent of all cookie sales proceeds goes right back to the Troop. I asked my sister, the mother of a Girl Scout and my primary cookie supplier, “Where does the other 80 percent go?” Turns out there’s a good answer to the questions (a substantial portion goes to the cookie makers), but how cool would it be if an organization can say 100 percent of all donations support the cause?

Mel’s Charities has grown steadily since its inception at a bowling alley in 1999. I encourage you to visit their website to read about the great story. Mel’s is working to make a better world starting right here in Ozaukee County, and at one time they were able to do so without overhead expenses, but much like any other growing organization, with growth comes increased overhead. The board and executive director of Mel’s Charities recognized that there are things that can be done to continue to say 100 percent of donations will be used for the causes Mel’s supports.

They came up with a big idea that will not only help Mel’s continue to tell its supporters that 100 percent of donations will go to the causes, but will also help to make this great cause sustainable beyond those currently running the organization. The big idea is the 300 FUN(d) Team, which sets the goal of having 300 people commit to donating $300 per year for three years, specifically earmarked for overhead expenses. This would allow the organization to continue to do the great things they are doing in the community, and they will continue to be able to tell donors that 100 percent of their donation is going toward the causes.

With nominal salary expenses, office space rent and other overhead expenses, amounts that exceed the expenses raised by the 300 FUN(d) Team could be used to create an endowment, assuring that the organization can continue into perpetuity.

The 300 FUN(d) Team ended 2018 with 186 members, moving towards its goal of 300, but the first round of members’ three-year commitment is coming to an end. Of the 186 members, only 17 are from Mequon-Thiensville, only slightly more than members from outside of Wisconsin. So, here’s my challenge to you, Ozaukee County, specifically my fellow Mequon-Thiensvillians. Let’s blow this goal out of the water.

Mel’s says “What We Raise Here Stays Here,” but let’s make sure that Mel’s Charities stays here too by supporting the charity as well as its causes. Visit melscharities.org or find them on Facebook to learn how you can help reach this goal or to learn about other ways you can support or to learn more about the organization. And hey, don’t forget about them when planning your estate.

Samuel Azinger is a Thiensville village trustee and an attorney at Willms, S.C., specializing in elder law, estate planning, business law and tax law.

“So, here’s my challenge to you, Ozaukee County, specifically my fellow Mequon-Thiensvillians. Let’s blow this goal out of the water.”