It is an election year and candidates running for various offices are busy making their case for your support. If you are like me, you may be scanning the ballot for candidates that share your values. It is hard to predict exactly what opportunities and challenges an elected official will face during his or her tenure, but considering the values they express in campaign materials and public speaking opportunities, can give you some insights about how they are likely to respond when confronted with important decisions.

I look for the same fundamental capacity to make decisions when hiring people to join our staff at East Texas Communities Foundation. Our work at ETCF is somewhat unique among nonprofits, and I have never had the opportunity to hire someone with perfectly matched experience, such as previous work experience at a community foundation. Instead, candidates for employment at ETCF are asked to take a variety of tests to determine how proficient they are with certain business computer applications as well as tests to assess their logical reasoning skills. There is one thing that is certain around our office, each of our staff will need to make decisions every day. Before making an offer to a prospective employee, I want to know the likelihood that a person, presented with a series of facts, can draw a logical conclusion.

I would encourage you to apply the same logical reasoning that applies to selecting candidates or employees, to the process of considering charities for your support. Start with your values. There are over 5,000 registered charities in East Texas, and that number excludes most churches, which are significant beneficiaries of charitable support. How do you go about selecting which organizations to consider for your support? What are your core values and which organizations share those values?

Do you value education? At what level; preschool, K-12, or college? Do you value public education, charter schools or private schools? Are you looking for a school for children with special needs such as physical handicaps or learning challenges? Perhaps you are looking for an educational institution that works with a particular group of students, such as job training for women, adult literacy or skills training for the visually impaired. Search the web for organizations that have a clearly stated mission, to identify organizations that share your values. Web sites like GuideStar and can provide information and links to many local nonprofit organizations in a variety of categories, or you can give us a call at ETCF and perhaps we can help.

Sometimes an election can be focused on a particular issue or platform, such as draining the swamp, modernizing the operations of a department, repairing infrastructure or building new schools. When searching for charities, consider their platforms. Do they want to ease human suffering, alleviate hunger, break the cycle of poverty, rescue children or animals from abuse? Look for a charity with a project or challenge, and a clear plan to address the issue with your support. There is a need for charitable support for organizations that address immediate crises, as well as organizations that provide long-term support such as counseling, training, housing, education and mentoring which lead to stabilization and self-sufficiency. Let me encourage you to find one or more charities that share your vision for the success of our community.

Elections are about choices. The March primaries are often contests between two individuals from the same party, sharing similar fundamental values, but bringing their own unique leadership styles and experience. If your candidate doesn’t win the primary, are you prepared to support the winner in the general election? Similarly, if your preferred charity isn’t addressing a particular challenge that concerns you, can you find a charity that is addressing that particular challenge and shift your support to meet the need? One of the measures of success for our community is our ability to identify and help others overcome barriers to individual success and achieve self-sufficiency.

Philanthropy is each individual’s opportunity to vote for the success of their fellow man. Unlike local elections, with philanthropy you can vote as often as you like. Let me encourage you to take the opportunity to exercise your right to vote for the charity of your choice as your next philanthropic opportunity to give well.