Dear Ms. Plaid:

I want to be thoughtful in giving money to charities, but I am so overwhelmed by the choices.  How can I select a charity and be confident my money is doing good?

– Trying to Do Good

Dear Trying to Do Good,

It’s great you want to be more charitable and being thoughtful in how you donate your money is important.  There are a few things to consider when donating money:

1. Are you involved with the organization?

The best way to vet an organization is to volunteer and participate.  You don’t have to do everything at the organization or be on the board, but volunteer a few times to get a sense of the management and ensure they truly are aligned to their mission.  If you see funds being spent frivolously or without care, then you should probably look for another non-profit.

2. Conduct Research

Check out the organization on a few sites that “grade” non-profits like GuideStar or Charity Navigator.  These sites cumulate public information, including tax returns, of 501(c)3 entities and provide an overall grade of health.  By viewing the tax return you can determine how much a non-profit spent on managing the non-profit versus fulfilling the mission.

3. Giving On-Line or Snail Mail

Giving on-line is safe if you are giving directly at the non-profit website.  Beware of scams at sites that will process the money and then “send” to the non-profit.  Additionally, you can use a site like Network for Good that provides secure giving to over 1 million charities.

Another common question is giving a small amount to lots of different charities versus making one large donation.  I prefer to make one donation because I believe they will have a greater impact and lower administrator costs.  It costs the same from a management perspective to process $20 and send a notice, update the database, etc. as $100.  So if I make a larger gift more money actually benefits the mission.

Also, depending on your budget financial giving might not be feasible right now.  Don’t think that you can’t make an impact for your cause.  Non-profits always need volunteers.  Consider how you can use your professional skills to make an impact like helping organize an event or writing a public relations piece for the organization.  Many times, I have used my experience in a non-profit to build a new skill that I can later show my employer I developed outside of work.

Trying to do Good thank you for contributing to our communities and seeking ways to improve our world.

Ms. Plaid