Having worked in nonprofit for almost eight years now, I’m soberly aware of some problems in this industry. Well Aware makes every effort to be accountable, transparent, and lean. But, not all charities make the same efforts.
Some nonprofits don’t put very much of your dollar toward the people they purport to serve; others aren’t funding the programs that their messaging claims but have instead a slightly (or completely) different agenda. And, some simply don’t have the infrastructure to support what they genuinely wish to accomplish.
All that said, there are still many very worthy groups tackling very important issues that are using your dollar efficiently and for the cause they claim. And, it’s not too difficult, nor does it take too long, to know which groups are worth your investment.
Before you donate to an organization, regardless of where it is based, simply take a few minutes to confirm that they are legally recognized nonprofit. A quick search for legal status can be made on the IRS website here: http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=96136,00.html
Other user-friendly and widely respected websites on which you can easily view financial information and donor reviews are:
Charity Navigator (though, note that Charity Navigator does not currently host financial information for nonprofits that have less that one million dollars in annual revenue.)
If you can not find the charity you’re considering on these sites, you can make inquiries to the nonprofit for additional information. Some recommended questions to ask before you click “donate” or hand over your check:
1. To what legal entity is your money going before it is used in the intended program?
It is not uncommon for a charity to work with other nonprofits that will actually implement the funded program. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But, if you want to be aware of how your contribution is being used, by whom, and through how many different organizations, you can ask the charity for this information.
2. What has this organization already accomplished?
You can confirm the age and financial track record through the IRS using the link above. You might also want to request supporting information from the organization that provides more detail on the programs they have supported and the impact of their work.
3. What does Google have to say about it?
Search engines can be very helpful in learning more about an organization. If anyone is talking about a negative experience they have had with a charity, you can likely find it by searching for them online. You can often also learn more about projects and impact from a quick Google search.
4. Where is this charity based?
Be careful if the charity only accepts donations through an online payment processor like PayPal without additional contact information. Reputable charities have a street address and a phone number.
5. Can I really deduct this donation?
Know the difference between “tax exempt” and “tax deductible.” Tax exempt means the organization doesn’t have to pay taxes. Tax deductible means you can deduct your contribution on your federal income tax return. You can verify this using any of the online resources listed above.
6. Will my online donation be a secure transaction?
If you’re thinking about giving online, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL that begins “https:” (the “s” stands for “secure”).
There are numerous groups doing incredible work for the world! You can continue to give to the causes you are passionate about and feel secure about your gift with just a few minutes of investigation.
Please share this post on your social media pages to help spread charity-checking awareness! The more we all know about how to give with confidence to competent organizations, they more difficult it will be for deficient groups to continue to exist.