Railway preservation’s end of the year dollars and sense

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Between now and next Monday, I want to make modest financial contributions to two railway preservation groups that excite me with the work they’re doing. I suspect many of you are thinking about doing the same thing. I’d rather the money be spent on staybolts, boiler tubes, and paint than go to the taxman, right?

 Most of you have heard my sermon on regular giving to railway preservation so if you already know what I’m about to say on that topic, skip to the next paragraph. For those who haven’t heard my take on this, here’s the condensed version: Set up a monthly $100 credit card debit to the non-profit of your choosing (Paypal can do this online) and over a year you’ll kick in a little more than $1,000 to your favorite charity for about the cost of a small Starbucks coffee beverage each day — and you’ll avoid the calories. You can make a difference for about $3.33 a day!

 As for end of year giving, as you reach for the “donate” button on the website of your preservation group, I’d urge you to do some homework. For me, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3.

 First stop, review the Internal Revenue Service Form 990. You can find them online. That’s the filing that non-profits are required to make to prove to the government and us all that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing and spending their money where it should go. Is it current? Anything that makes you question their workings? This is the serious stuff. Don’t skip it.

 Second, review their printed and Web material. Do they send out a letter requesting end-of-year donations? Do their newsletter and Website reflect the kind of services you want to sponsor? Is it the kind of place / experience that you’d take your family to visit? Is their board of directors credible, diverse, and engaged?

 Third, I look for focus. What’s the mission? Are they sticking to it, or wandering in the weeds messing around with other stuff that’s inconsequential? Do they have short-term and long-term goals that you can support? Are they ambitious but realistic? Is their executive director a good leader?

 That is my quick guide help you decide if you as an individual want to make a donation to a railway preservation group before the close of the day on Dec. 31. You can find other suggestions online from people who are professionals at helping contributors with donations. This is the quick test that works for me.

 But wait, I’m not finished. I have one final request for the year. I want to challenge each of you who is a member of a railroad club or who is a board member of one of these clubs that are considered to be non-profits: Do something with your money in 2019.

 A lot of these groups over the last 50 years used to sponsor excursions and other events and earned a trainload of money doing so. A lot of these groups used to sponsor railway preservation projects of their own and needed that cash because none of this is cheap. A lot of these groups are no longer sponsoring railway preservation projects. But they’re still sitting on large piles of cash. A lot of these groups are aging out. Some of them are no longer active. Some cannot even find a board of directors to constitute a quorum.

 If you’re a member of a railfan club, at the first meeting of 2019 ask your board of directors to invest in worthwhile projects that will keep the interest in railroad history going. Don’t sit on big bank accounts you no longer need. If you’re a trustee or board member of a railfan group, ask yourself: Why are we keeping this money? Can we be doing something with this money that’s an investment in a future for the past?


I think you all know what the answer is. A Happy New Year to all!







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