GuideStar Offers Advice on Evaluating Charities' Effectiveness

Release date: January 6, 2005
Williamsburg, Va.—The unprecedented outpouring of donor financial support is bringing a record volume of inquiries to GuideStar, the national database of nonprofit information, about the reliability and effectiveness of international aid organizations. GuideStar urges donors to take these steps before making a contribution to a charity providing tsunami relief:

  1. Look at the charity's mission and programs.

    The true measure of a charity's effectiveness is whether it accomplishes its mission.

    • Look at how the charity defines its mission—an effective charity defines its mission clearly.
    • Then look at how the charity describes its programs. Ask yourself, "Does this charity do what it says it is going to do?" If the answer is "Yes" and you agree with the charity's mission, you may want to support it. If the answer is "No," you probably don't want to support it.

  2. Look at how the charity defines its goals and evaluates its own performance.

    An effective charity:

    • Has specific, measurable goals.
    • Uses concrete criteria to describe its achievements—"Provided emergency housing to 100,000 disaster victims in five countries" (not "Helped disaster victims overseas").

  3. Then (and only then) look at the charity's finances.

    • If you are comparing different charities, be sure to compare charities that do the same kind of work. The type of work a nonprofit does can affect its operating costs dramatically.
    • Remember that, although financial measures such as administrative and program ratios are important, they are only one part of the picture.

  4. Avoid charities that:

    • Describe their missions and program only in vague terms.
    • Pressure you for an answer now.
    • Pressure you to provide your banking or credit card information.
    • Make highly emotional appeals that contain few verifiable facts.
    • Have names similar to, but not the same as, other charities, and on which you can't find any independent information.

  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,, 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

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