After writing my previous post about holiday giving that also gives back, I realized that some people might need a little help finding the local charity to which they ultimately want to give. Here are a five steps you can take to help you choose your nonprofit(s):
- Think about the organizations you already interact with. Have you adopted a pet at the local shelter? Do you listen to public radio? Do you currently receive services from a nonprofit? Start with what (and who) you know. If you already have a relationship with a nonprofit, thank them by taking the extra step to make a donation.
- Google nonprofit organizations in your town. This is the most obvious place to start if you’re unsure of what’s in your neighborhood. I bet you’ll be surprised at how many you find.
- Once you find an organization (or more), visit the charity’s website and check out their mission, programs and services. Everything a nonprofit does should relate directly to its mission. If you don’t believe in the mission, keep searching.
- Use websites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator to gauge how your money will be used. With a 501(c)(3) status, an organization has to be incredibly transparent. You can view a charity’s 990 for free on the GuideStar website and read reviews of organizations. Charity Navigator rates nonprofits with specific methodology. Both websites have a ton of information to help you give smartly.
- When in doubt, call or email. Nonprofits love talking about the work that they do. You want to know how they’ll use the money you give to them. Asking questions helps you make an informed decision. (Seriously, I love it when people call and ask about the nonprofit I work for. It helps people connect more deeply to the organization. Sometimes you really can’t get a feel for what the org does in your community until you talk to a dedicated staff member.)
I try to make sure I send my money where it will make the biggest impact. In a weaker economy, it’s even more important to exercise your due diligence when picking a nonprofit organization to send a donation to.
Now, go forth and give!