Checking Out Charities

"You often just don't know what you're going to end up with if you donate" to smaller charities, says Ken Berger, president and chief executive officer at charity evaluator Charity Navigator. You may not know "whether or not [the charity] is truly well-meaning … and whether [it] is really vetting and thoughtfully finding the greatest need out there."

Giving charitably can be a tough thing. You want to make sure your money goes as far as it can. A lot of donors choose smaller charities with less overhead to help ensure their money is used as intended and to the fullest extent. However, if you’re thinking small, it’s worth ‘digging deeper’, and not just into your pockets. No, dig deep into the charity and make sure it is as you want it to be.

The good thing about a large charity is that it’s fairly well established. For example, it has the power to complete its goals and likely it has a history that is readily examinable. The reason not to give to a big charity is that your money also will go towards funding all the bureaucracy and red-tape that have made the charity big in the first place. This can mean few dollars actually advance the charitable cause.

Conversely, smaller charities can be more efficient, but may lack those same assurances, unless you’ve done your research. Depending on your charity of choice, the local history might indicate the effectiveness of the charity. As to its value, you always can check its progress against its mission statement. What are they trying to accomplish? Do they know? How do they do so?

In addition, don’t be too bashful to ask “who’s in charge” and what they do with the donations? To help guide you through the process, try various services like the Charity Navigator ratings system, or GuideStar to determine how charities use their funds.

In the end, giving to a smaller charity may be that much more rewarding, and with all your research you might end up giving your time, too. Indeed, work first-hand can be a good way of learning and for giving back as well.

Heading into the Holiday season, with Thanksgiving at our doorstep and carolers not far behind, it’s as good a time as any to start your research and your charitable donations.

You can learn more about charitable planning on our website. Be sure to sign up for our complimentary e-newsletter to stay abreast of issues like these that could affect you, your loved ones and your estate planning. 

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (October 30, 2011) “Dig Deeper When Checking Out Smaller Charities

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