10 Tried and True Tips for Choosing a Charity

Warm Charity Word Wall

We all work hard for our money, so when it comes to giving it away, we want to feel good about where we share the fruits of our labor. Here are some tried and true tips for choosing your charity, along with some information on kids, pets, and veterans organizations that will help you feel good about where your money is going.

  1. Decide where your heart is. Make a list of possible charities to review. Once you are clear on your values and the things that are important to you, it’s time to choose an organization that represents those values. Research the mission statements and eliminate any groups that don’t reflect your personal values.
  2. At home or abroad? Ask yourself where you would like to see your dollars at work; at home (your neighborhood, city, state, country) or internationally.
  3. Do you want to support a new charity (startup) or an old, established one? Do you want to work with a small group where you can get to know the players individually, perhaps volunteering your time, or would you rather give to a large-scale organization?
  4. If you choose a faith-based organization, ask to see the official listing in its denominational directory. Call or write the governing body for that denomination and verify the charitable status. Avoid charities, faith-based or not, that will not share information with you. If an organization accepts donations, their inner workings (especially financial statements) should be an open book. Ask to see their letter of determination, proving they are a legitimate charitable organization, if it is not on display.
  5. Compare and contrast. Be sure to compare the same kind of work different charities do if you are trying to choose between two or more. Do they have a website or Facebook page showcasing community events? Can they provide proof of their nonprofit activities?
  6. Any charity you consider should be able to prove the authenticity of their work and the positive effect it has had on a given area or segment of society. For basic information on a charity’s income, spending, mission, and executive salaries, go to GuideStar for information. The GuideStar website provides access to each organization’s Form 990, the basic I.R.S. filing document for nonprofits.
  7. Pressure tactics. Reputable charities do not need to rely on pressure tactics to raise money for their organization. They should ideally have a website or some form of verifiable proof of their programs and finances.
  8. Other donors. If a charity you are considering supporting will give you a few names of their donors along with contact information, you can reach out to these donors and ask them about their experience with the charity.
  9. Check with the Better Business Bureau. The BBB Wise Giving Alliance, affiliated with the Council of Better Business Bureaus, has free reviews of 1,300 national charities; local BBBs have evaluations on an additional 10,000. The group applies 20 “accountability” standards — governance, oversight, effectiveness, and the like — once every two years at no charge to the charities, but it does not explicitly rate them using a star or letter system.
  10. To customize a search and get charity-specific ratings, Charity Navigator, which evaluates about 7,000 nonprofits, has an easy-to-use interface to find charities that match your interests. Focusing on financial health, accountability, and transparency, Charity Navigator applies an analysis to each of its charities.

Children’s Charities:

From the children without permanent homes, forced to enter the foster care system in America to hungry and abandoned children in foreign countries, there are hundreds of charities designed to help the world’s children. For a list of possible children’s charities you may wish to support, go to Children’s Charities of America.

Animal Charities:

Whether you want to support your local pound, help expand your city’s zoo, or give to wildlife conservation, there are any number of animal charities to choose from. Check out Animal Charities of America at http://www.animalcharitiesofamerica.org/home/ for information on how to help protect pets, wildlife, and endangered species.

Veteran’s Charities:

Most of us have heard of the VA, USO, and Wounded Warrior Project. In addition to these three wonderful veteran’s charities, there are many more organizations that support our military veterans. By the same token, there are some groups who do not do a great job supporting our vets. For a guide to the best and worst military charities, check out the Americana Institute of Philanthropy’s report on the top choices and the ones to avoid.

Never give out credit card or personal banking information to a charity; they should be more than willing to take a check. If the worst happens, report any abuses to the nearest Better Business Bureau and the State Attorney General’s office. Both are listed in local telephone directories. You can also report abuses to the National Fraud Information Center at (800) 876-7060. NFIC also has a web-based complaint form at fraud.org.