You saw the recent devastation in Nepal on the news. Or maybe you read a statistic about people who are getting sick and dying just because they don’t have access to clean water to drink. Or perhaps you’re struck by the amount of human trafficking in the world and want to do something. You have some money set aside to donate, but how do you choose an organization to support? How are you supposed to tell which ones are good and which ones are bad?
With all the recent press around the Red Cross and the “six homes built with $500 million” (though the story about that incident is misleading), it’s no surprise that people are hesitant now to give their money to charity organizations. Many people I’ve talked to have simply become overwhelmed in recent years by the sheer number of charity organizations out there. It can be difficult to wade through to find a good nonprofit to support.
I’m not here to tell you who you should support. Each of us is unique, and we each have a different story that led us to want to give financially. But as you’re looking to give, here are a few tips that can help you narrow down and find a great organization doing awesome work:
1. Look at Organizations Working in an Area You are Passionate About
Each person naturally gravitates to an issue that sparks their interest. Whether it be because you work with children, pass by a homeless individual every day, or have witnessed the impact of cholera and unsafe sanitation on a community, we all have something that triggers a desire to help. That’s where you should start. Pinpointing a specific cause will greatly decrease the stress of wading through a seemingly infinite number of charities.
There are different kinds of nonprofit organizations, too. Ones that work directly with affected populations and ones that advocate for change for those affected populations. Some are local and some are global. Maybe you want to split your finances and donate half to an organization to direct services and half to an organization advocating for those that direct services is helping to reach both the immediate needs of a population while also seeking to alleviate the systemic reasons they need the assistance in the first place. Both kinds of organizations are vital to solving many unjust issues in the world.
2. Talk to Others About Where They’ve Donated Their Money
Chances are you know someone who has donated money to a charity (really, you do). You may even know someone who has donated money to a charity about which you are passionate. So talk to people. If you’re looking to sponsor a child, ask people you know about their experiences sponsoring children. If you want to donate to help provide clean water to a community, find someone who has already been involved in clean water initiatives. You’ll find your home community to be a wealth of information if you only ask.
3. Research the Organization
This may seem like a given, but we don’t always think to really look into charities we’ve heard about. Once you’ve narrowed down to a few organizations, check them out using a charity-rating tool like Charity Navigator or GuideStar (or both). Every year, nonprofit organizations are required to make their financial reports available to the public, and these websites will give you an easy to understand rating based upon financial health, transparency, and accountability—essentially, they’re looking at how efficiently and effectively charities are doing their work and passing that info onto you.
Do some research on the organization’s website and in the media, too. Dig into their website, and if financials are listed directly on their site, take a look at them! Just remember as you peruse the media not to take all news stories at face value. As said earlier, the Red Cross received some negative publicity from one misleading article. In truth, they acknowledge only building six houses with $500 million. The houses were a pilot project, and it was determined that the money would be much more effective if it was repurposed to other programs that are saving lives and providing needed shelter. One misleading news story had very negative effects for both the Red Cross and the people in Haiti, so be careful and double-check all your research.
4. Do They Offer Ways to be Involved Beyond Financial Donation?
I don’t know about you, but I like to do something about an issue beyond just giving money. If the organization you’re looking into has services are overseas, do they provide a way for you to get involved in advocacy? Do they help you better understand how your choices impact people around the world and how you can make a difference by consciously choosing just actions? Do they encourage you to pray for the cause you’re financially supporting? If they don’t personally offer ways to get involved, do they partner with other organizations with these kinds of programs and encourage their supporters to get involved with them?
Whatever it is, there should be a tangible way for you to make your commitment to the cause beyond a simple financial contribution.
5. Pray About It
Before and as you’re doing any of the above, pray. There are so many organizations out there and so many different causes, but God knows which one needs you and which one you need. Take some time to pray and really listen to what is happening around you. God will place people or situations in your life that will guide you to a cause or organization.
Open your heart, mind and that Bible you have; you’ll be surprised at what can happen.
In the end, as long as you realize the contribution you’re making isn’t about you, but about making sure the best services and voices are making a positive difference in the lives of others, you can’t go wrong! Happy giving!
is an activist and writer living in Portland, Oregon.