How to Choose a Charity

How to Choose a Charity
Tracy Bernard

There are so many problems in this world. The good news is that there are many good people ready and willing to tackle those problems. If you are like me, you’ve probably been paralyzed with indecision at times; not only is choosing a cause a challenge, but so is choosing how to help and who to work with.

Trust is also a factor. Misuse of funds and outright fraud happen. Playing on the emotions of well-meaning people is an easy avenue for charlatans. Likewise, a charity that is poorly run can gobble up funds for inflated administrative costs.

Here are questions to consider before donating:

What matters to you?

One person might be passionate about animals while another might have lost a loved one to cancer. Choose something you care deeply about. You can’t solve every problem in the world. This is a great way to narrow the list.

What do they really need from you?

Most organizations will gladly accept any financial donation, but also consider donating through volunteering. Using volunteers instead of paid workers oftentimes has a greater financial impact. And don’t forget to take into account the special talents or opportunities you bring to the table. For example, one way I help is through the Girl Gives Back features in this magazine. It’s something unique that I can provide and way more valuable than a donation of a few hundred dollars.

How much of their donations are spent on administration?

Talented people are needed to run an effective organization and that means overhead through payroll and other expenses. Transparency about the use of funds is critical, and most reputable organizations will be upfront about what percentage of every dollar will go toward a given agenda. If you can’t get a clear answer to this question, it should be a red flag.

Who found who?

Ideally, you reached out to them first, however, most charitable organizations do fund drives through phone, mail, or the internet. Extra caution should be taken here. This can be a haven for scams. Are they local? Have you ever heard of them? How did they find you? Does anyone else endorse them? If I’ve been contacted and I want to donate, I never do it on the spot. It's easy to do some quick research online (not just the website they’ve provided) and even call to verify they have a fund drive going on. I also never donate to anyone that has a name I don’t recognize. It isn’t terribly difficult to pose as a reputable charity, so be careful about clicking on links, unsecured web transactions, or opening unsolicited email attachments.

Are they near you?

This can sometimes be tricky. Natural disasters, rampant disease, lack of resources, and war wreak havoc across the globe and of course, we want to and should help. The US government and reputable news organizations will often vet and release lists of credible groups addressing each problem. I do not recommend donating internationally through any solicitation. Do your research first and then make contact with them through their website or 800 number – never a click-through ad or email.

In general, though, philanthropy close to home tends to be safer with more accountability, transparency, and impact on your community and everyday life. I personally take great pride in being part of a community that embraces a culture of giving back. Happy Giving!

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