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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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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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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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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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 Premium and 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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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

Giving to Disaster Relief and Recovery—when disaster strikes, people want to help. Unfortunately, it's not always clear which nonprofits can respond most effectively, or even if some organizations asking for donations are legitimate. Here are five tips to help you give wisely.

Why You Should Consider Giving an Unrestricted Gift—we get it; you want to give now, to help people affected by this disaster. But take a step back so that you help as many people as possible, both now and in the future.

Charities Learn to Turn Away Support Offered by Donors Who Are Overcome with Sympathy—donors are sometimes surprised when nonprofits decline gifts. Here's why certain types of gifts can impede the organizations' effectiveness.

Donor Research

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