GuideStar's Tips for Choosing a Charity

Release date: December 4, 2003

GuideStar, the national database of nonprofit information, offers 10 tips for donors who want to give with their heads as well as their hearts:

Researching Charities

  1. Clarify your values.
    • Do this before you open your checkbook, volunteer your time, or look at that letter from a charity.
    • Decide what is important to you. The environment? Education? Hunger? Animal welfare?

  2. Identify your preferences.
    • Ask yourself how a charity should work on the issues that concern you? Through prevention? Public education? Immediate assistance?
    • Where should the charity do its work? In your neighborhood, region, nationally, or internationally?
    • Do you want to support a large or small charity, a new or an old one?

  3. Search the GuideStar database (www.guidestar.org) to find charities that meet your criteria.

  4. Focus on the mission.
    • Look at each charity's description in the GuideStar search results, on its Web site, or in its literature.
    • Find the nonprofits that fit best with your values.

  5. Eliminate organizations that don't meet your criteria.

Evaluating Charities

  1. Verify a charity's legitimacy.
    • If you find a charity on GuideStar (www.guidestar.org), you know it's legitimate—all nonprofits listed on GuideStar are either registered with the IRS or have provided proof that they meet the IRS criteria for charitable organizations.
    • If the charity is not on GuideStar, ask to see its letter of determination.
    • If the organization is faith based, ask to see its official listing in a directory for its denomination.

  2. Get the cold, hard facts. A reputable organization will:
    • Define its mission and programs clearly.
    • Have measurable goals.
    • Use concrete criteria to describe its achievements.

  3. Compare apples to apples. Be sure to compare charities that do the same kind of work, especially if you're looking at their finances. A charity's mission can affect its operating costs dramatically.

  4. Avoid charities that won't share information or that pressure you. Reputable nonprofits:
    • Will discuss their programs and finances.
    • Don't use pressure tactics.
    • Are willing to send you literature about their work or direct you to a Web site.
    • Will take "no" for an answer.

  5. Trust your instincts. If you still have doubts about a charity, don't contribute to it. Instead, find another nonprofit that does the same kind of work and with which you feel comfortable, then make your donation.

About GuideStar

GuideStar, www.guidestar.org, offers information about the programs and finances of 1.7 million IRS-recognized charitable organizations. GuideStar powers many on-line giving systems and distributes both free and subscription-based nonprofit data to grantmakers, nonprofits, donors, government charity regulators, and professionals serving the sector. To find out more about GuideStar services, go to www.guidestar.org.

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Suzanne E. Coffman
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757-229-4631, ext. 27