They comprise dozens of charities—how is a donor to choose? GuideStar, the premier source of information on U.S. charitable organizations, offers the following suggestions.
- Identify your preferences.
The first step is to identify what kinds of activities are important to you. Are you interested in food aid, medical care, or some other form of immediate assistance? Do you want to give to a charity that offers several kinds of programs, or would you prefer to support one engaged in a single activity?
If a long-term approach appeals to you, should it focus on education, village reconstruction, or something else?
- Look at the organizations' missions and programs.
Now that you have clarified your own interests, it's time to find the organizations that best meet them. Identify the nonprofits that best fit your preferences by reviewing the Missions & Programs page of each charity's report on GuideStar (www.guidestar.org), visiting its Web site, or reading its fundraising literature.
- Evaluate how well each charity defines its goals and accomplishments.
How does a charity define success? A nonprofit should have measurable goals—Feed 500 refugees a day—rather than vague objectives—Fight hunger. It should use concrete criteria—gallons of potable water delivered, number of buildings reconstructed—to describe its achievements. You can find this information on the Goals & Results page of a charity's GuideStar Report or in Part III of its Form 990.
- Assess the charities' financial health.
Use GuideStar financial summaries, images of a nonprofit's Form 990, and information on a charity's Web site and in its fundraising appeals to evaluate its financial health. Don't automatically assume there's a problem if you see a deficit or surplus. Contact the organization—charities should willingly discuss their finances.
If you are looking at several organizations, be sure that you only compare nonprofits that do the same kind of work. Different programs have varying costs, so compare medical organizations to medical organizations, food charities to food charities, and so forth.
- Get more information from the charity itself.
If at this point you are still unsure about which charities to support, contact them directly. Sometimes a visit to a nonprofit's Web site or a telephone call will give you exactly the information you need to make your decision.
About GuideStarGuideStar, 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.
News ContactSuzanne E. Coffman
Director of Communications
757-229-4631, ext. 27