Five simple steps to better giving

Follow these five simple steps to ensure that you give with your head as well as your heart.

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Step one

Clarify your values

Charities are as diverse as their donors. Be proactive and don’t just give to the first one that solicits you! Consider the type of charity you want to support—small or large; start-up or established; local, national, or international.

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Step two

Focus on the mission

Make sure a nonprofit has an easy-to-understand mission that aligns with your principles and beliefs. You can look up a specific nonprofit in GuideStar’s database of more than 2.4 million current and historic organizations, or use the search filters to find charities by category, size, and location.

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Step three

Get the facts

Dig deeper once you find a nonprofit that meets your basic requirements. Pay attention to factors that are most relevant to nonprofit performance—results, transparency, and leadership—but don’t buy in to the Overhead Myth. Remember: there are no stories without numbers, and no numbers without  stories. Visit a nonprofit’s website. Read its annual report. And turn to its GuideStar Nonprofit Profile for an easy indication of its transparency. Look for a Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum logo on its profile in order to research mission statements, financial statistics, and impact and effectiveness information.

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Step four

Check legitimacy

Let’s face it: there are sham nonprofits out there. If you find a nonprofit on GuideStar with our Search, you know the IRS recognizes it as tax exempt. (GuideStar Pro include information on defunct organizations, but those profiles are clearly marked.) If you can’t find a charity, further investigation is required:

  • If the charity is not on GuideStar, ask to see its IRS letter of determination.
  • If the organization is faith based, ask to see its official listing in a directory for its denomination.
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Step five

Trust your instincts

If you have concerns about a charity, don’t contribute. Instead, find another nonprofit that does similar work but makes you feel more comfortable. Remember, reputable charities:

  • Are willing to send you literature about their work, or direct you to their website.
  • Don’t use pressure tactics.
  • Take “no” for an answer.
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Additional tools and resources

Tools and resources

General charity research

  • Overhead Myth

    Nonprofit financial accountability is important. Financial ratios, however, reveal little about a nonprofit's effectiveness. GuideStar, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Navigator have joined forces to help donors and nonprofits focus on the metrics that matter most: those that show how well an organization is accomplishing its mission.

  • Donor Bill of Rights

    Donors have rights. Do you know what they are?

  • Questions to Ask a Nonprofit before Investing in It

    Use these questions to guide conversations with nonprofits you're thinking of supporting.

  • Articles Especially for Donors

    Learn more from these articles on giving effectively.

  • Stakeholder reviews

    Find reviews by people who have firsthand experience with nonprofits in the organizations' GuideStar Nonprofit Profiles. Powered by GreatNonprofits. Or write your own reviews.

Disaster relief and recovery

Donor research

  • Money for Good identifies donors' motivations for giving and how those motivations affect philanthropy in general.