Once you’ve committed to working towards good, you may need a way to identify the best charity for you to effect change. And while you may have a good idea of what kind of cause is close to your heart, finding an organization that excites you and is authentic in its goals and actions might take a bit of research!
So, how do you know if you’re picking the right charity to make the biggest impact? Here are easy tips for vetting a nonprofit organization to make sure your time and money go as far as possible when doing good.
Find your fit
You want to get involved with an organization that motivates and inspires you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to organizations directly and have a conversation. We recommend looking up a manager on the development team if it’s not obvious whom to contact from the website — ask about the organization’s work, how they partner with volunteers, and how they utilize your time and investment. These employees will more often than not also share great information and anecdotes about the organization that may not be available online.
Not sure where to start in the initial conversation with organizations? Get curious! Take a look at featured programs or events on their website or social channels, and ask them what other current projects they’re working on that aren’t advertised to the public. Or, simply learn what most excites them about the work they do.
For example, if they are a humanitarian aid organization that distributes food worldwide, ask where you can learn more about the impact in specific areas. You can learn just as much about the organization based on how they respond to your questions as you can from the actual details of their answers. Are the employees eager to share about what they do? Do they direct you towards additional resources on their website to learn more? Or conversely, is it hard to know the organization based on its private info and layered structure?
In addition, many nonprofits are willing to set up in-person facility tours and overview meetings to share their work with you. It’s also a great first step to forming a true relationship with their organization and employees, which is key to any lasting nonprofit involvement. If you don’t get off the phone excited to participate or confident in how your money and time will be spent, don’t worry! You may just need to keep researching some other organizations that feel right.
Evaluate how efficient they are
To have nonprofit status, charity organizations are required to uphold a level of transparency in regards to how money is spent — this means their financial reports should be available for public review. Most nonprofits will even post annual reports on their website to make it easier for donors to find. What’s more, many organizations and media outlets do similar research, sharing which charities have the lowest overhead/operation costs (an excellent strategy to see if and how anyone profits from the organization and its work).
The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance is one of the most prominent organizations that keeps charities accountable. A charity must meet 20 specific standards to become “accredited” by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. One of those standards is to spend at least 65% of their overall expenses on existing charitable programs. They also require limited philanthropic contributions to certain areas of the organization — like no more than 35% of their total contributions can be spent on fundraising.
CharityWatch is another organization keeping charities accountable and ranks nonprofits with an easy-to-understand letter system. They also examine the percentage of overhead spent on programs and other standards to ensure organizations are efficient with donations.
“Charities that are A-rated generally spend at least 75% or more on their programs, so more of your money goes to causes you want to support,” Stephanie Kalivas, an analyst at CharityWatch, said in an interview with ConsumerReports.org.
Using these resources — and even reviewing the annual reports yourself — is useful in determining a reliable charity that will manage and use your money with care.
Verify the charity online
One easy way to verify an organization is by finding its official legal status as a charity. The organization should be a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charity, and if that’s not easily identifiable on their website, pick up that phone! Ask them for their EIN (Employer Identification Number). This number is issued by the IRS and is essentially like an organization’s social security number.
Although it’s a shame, the sad reality is that some organizations claiming to be charitable aren’t. Digging into the details and finding concrete ways to verify that charity status can help you feel more secure in supporting them from the start.
With that EIN number in hand, you can verify any charity yourself on various sites like the ones we mentioned — give.org, charitywatch.org, charitynavigator.org, givewell.org, and more. These kinds of organizations do most of the legwork for you by researching nonprofits and delivering comprehensive reports to help you feel confident and motivated in working with and supporting them day-to-day.
Another helpful way to verify charities is through their social media presence on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Deep dive into their online conversations and posts to get a feel for the organization’s voice, focuses, and interactions with their audiences. What do they post about day-to-day? Do they appear to have proud and engaged donors and volunteers? Do experiences from other volunteers and workers make you feel inspired to get involved too? All this and more can be better understood by taking a peek at organizations’ pages.
UncommonGood supports nonprofits
UncommonGood was created to provide tools and support for nonprofit organizations to function more nimbly and efficiently, and we’re so excited to champion not only the charities we work with, but all charities doing good out there. We love working with causes we can get behind — check out the nonprofits and learn how to support the organizations we believe in.