How to Find Charities That Are Worthy of Your Contributions

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In the wake of a natural disaster, terrorist attack or humanitarian crisis, its common and natural to donate to the charitable organization that are helping deal with the aftermath. Indeed, America's 2.3 million nonprofits -- and the individuals who in 2012 donated $228.93 billion to them -- can make a dramatic difference. But determining where your funds will be most useful -- and which organizations are most deserving -- can be a challenge.

"When there is a true humanitarian need, there is an impulse to respond," said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. "But you have to look at each organization, look at what they are actually doing and make an informed decision on a case by case basis, rather than simply respond to an emotional appeal."

Ask First, Donate Later

There are three key facets for grading a charity: its financial performance, its governance practices and its results. "Does the charity have a diverse board keeping an eye on things? Sufficient rainy day funds for when things get tough? A set of ethical best practices?" asked Sandra Miniutti, marketing vice president and chief financial officer of Charity Navigator. "And most importantly, can it deliver results? Not just the heart-warming stories that draw you to the cause in the first place, of one person's life impacted by their work, but consistent, documentable, reliable results?"

Several organizations evaluate charities. Charity Navigator evaluates more than 7,000 charities on financial transparency and accountability. GiveWell evaluates a large range of charities to provide recommendations on a select number doing great work in need of extra help. The Urban Institute provides resources and research on giving in America. GuideStar, among other things, collects nonprofits' tax forms.

Potential donors should look for specifics when reading a charity's annual report or requests for donations. One or two case studies without the context of the overall success of the program should raise red flags. When in doubt, call the charity and ask for more information.

Marcus Sarofim, a federal environmental scientist, does thorough research before making any donation. "I subscribe to the GiveWell movement of really discovering which charities are doing the best work, are putting the funds to the best use, have the highest level of transparency, rather than reacting to an emotional appeal when something terrible happens."

While responding to emergency requests for funding can help, it's better to identify the quality organizations working in relief before a disaster strikes, and make sure they're well funded when they need it the most. Or, set some funds aside to response to those types of appeals, when they come from trusted charities during a legitimate crisis.

"Take the time to find out causes you're really passionate about and do the research before making a donation," Minuitti said. "Don't wait for a charity to call you on the phone or stop you outside a supermarket."

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42 Comments

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pllove49

I mean really...if you needed help or knew someone that needed help....would you know where to go or send someone...?

June 02 2014 at 9:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
alfredschrader

If you track funds after you give them you are in for a surprise.
Nearly all commercial charities are money engines. Finding this, I gave funds directly to homeless people. When I tracked the funds I found the homeless were spending it on cigarettes and alcohol, not on cleaning themselves up and finding jobs.

Somebody said the opposite of poverty is justice. No the opposite of poverty is wisdom.
For example the people of Africa have more gold, more diamonds, more oil, more iron, more mineral and ag wealth than anywhere on Earth. Giving them money is a waste of time - they have gobs of it. What they lack is wisdom, something they don't seem to want.

June 02 2014 at 5:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mrsperlosi

weilunion

All this 'darling' crap from this ingorant person. Who is she kidding? Look at the 45% unemployment rate for blacks, look at the student unemployment rate of over 30%, ask your neighbors if they have any savings. Americans are broke and so is America. You can thank the capitalist system for this and the military industrial complex

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Oh my you appear to have trouble controlling your bad behavior and your foul language. You can thank us liberals for bankrupting the country. Darling the world doesn't revolve around you.
Instead of concerning yourself with what others have perhaps you should put forth some effort and apply yourself dear. Quit your whining and complaining. And if I am ignorant then you and I
have something in common doll.

June 02 2014 at 12:24 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
mrsperlosi

rgkarasiewicz

Are you delusional or something, 'darling'? The list would be endless, and not to mention the scandals at Boys' Town, United Way, March of Dimes, 'Operation Blessing", etc.etc.etc.

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If I am delusional, then you and I have something in common dearest.

June 02 2014 at 12:18 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mrsperlosi's comment
rgkarasiewicz

I suppose that you have been seeing visions of St. Thomas, Captain Kidd, Christopher Columbus, Ramses II, Napoleon Bonaparte, and the rest of the klan too.

June 02 2014 at 3:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mrsperlosi

weilunion

We do not want charity. We want economic and social justice

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Oh so you want to take from others. Oh now I see dear. Perhaps you made some bad decisions in your life. Instead of constantly whining, perhaps you should apply yourself and maybe one day you will make something of yourself darling

June 02 2014 at 12:16 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
mrsperlosi

rgkarasiewicz

If we followed your lead 'dear', every last one of us would find ourselves on the receiving end some day as we would all be bankrupted.

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My lead darling?? Maybe you imbibed too much in the spirits today doll.

June 02 2014 at 12:14 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mrsperlosi's comment
rgkarasiewicz

No, that was afterwards princess.

June 02 2014 at 3:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mrsperlosi

rgkarasiewicz

I happen to be responsible. What's their excuse?

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Maybe you just think you are responsible doll.

June 02 2014 at 12:12 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mrsperlosi's comment
rgkarasiewicz

I think that I cleared that hurdle in that I will vote out every last lib on the ballot.

June 02 2014 at 3:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mouse

Check before you write out that check. I was almost going to hand over some money to a so-called "charity" for the police. They had nothing to do with the local police.

June 01 2014 at 11:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
weilunion

Gee, the down and out, the unemployed, the two job worker the students who are in debt -- thanks for the advice on the best charities to donate to. Now do an article on the best charities to receive help from, idiots.

June 01 2014 at 4:13 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to weilunion's comment
pllove49

I mean for real..why all tthe mystery...????

June 01 2014 at 5:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ktlb4

If you are feeling conflicted about donating to charities, find a local charity that you KNOW does good work (something you believe in) and that has VERY LOW overhead.

Look for charities where it is run completely, or mostly, by volunteers.

Try volunteering your time, at least until you feel comfortable about their mission, or the way they spend money. If you are pleased with what you see, you can continue to contribute your time and/or your money. It is very rewarding.

June 01 2014 at 1:43 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply