If you want to find a good hairdresser in your area, you go online to Yelp.com. A good restaurant: Zagats.com. But where do you go to find a worthy -- and trustworthy -- charity to donate to? Try GreatNonprofits.org, a site that's trying to make it easier for all parties involved in a nonprofit -- volunteers, staff workers, donors and the needy -- rate it as a place to fund.

GreatNonprofits.org was started by Perla Ni, former publisher of Stanford University's Social Innovation Review, after people came to her post-Hurricane Katrina, asking what charities to fund. Ni didn't have a clue -- there was no measurement system online rating charities beyond the income/expense ratios. The charities she did find in New Orleans providing most of the shelter, food and water were small, obscure ones that weren't getting any media or celebrity attention.

That's the case everywhere -- lots of small nonprofits doing good work but lacking the time and money to promote their efforts. GreatNonprofits.org has reviews for about 400 nonprofits to date, most of them in the Bay Area where Ni's organization is based, but there are more than one million charities in the Web site's database waiting to be reviewed, if you have some insight to share.


Another good website for finding worthy charities is GiveWell.net, which uses a thorough evaluation system to find and promote the strongest charities. Out of 136 charities that offered to be evaluated, GiveWell has given top marks to just four, but it says it's just getting started. On its site, GiveWell is asking people to take its online survey to help it set the future direction of its research.

Most charities mean well, but there are a few bad apples (ahem, the Smithsonian) that pull out the stops to raise funds but then don't disclose how they're spending it. As a donating member to the Nature Conservancy, I was p.o'd when I read about its CEO's smarmy financial deals a few years back. These days, when it's more important than ever to scrutinize what bank, broker and business you're giving your money to, the same criteria should apply to nonprofits. GreatNonprofits.org and GIveWell.net are a good start in providing it.



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