Julie Jason's Your Money: Some questions to ask charities before donating

By JULIE JASON January 05. 2018 8:44PM


Last week, we talked about the 9,048 charities rated by Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org). Let me share some additional thoughts this week on how to pick a charity that you can believe in and stand behind for a long time.

The quotes below are directly from Charity Navigator's "Questions To Ask Charities Before Donating" at https://tinyurl.com/y8eu6oqr.

1. "What is your organization's mission? If a charity struggles in explaining its mission and its programs, it will probably struggle in delivering those programs. Healthy organizations know exactly who they are, what they do, and why they are needed."

2. "What are your organization's goals? Goals are a necessary tool to measure success. Without establishing clear goals, it's challenging to measure success. If a charity cannot communicate its goals, both short and long term, it is difficult for a donor to know what the charity is working towards."

3. "What progress is your organization making toward its goals? Ask your organization what it has done to make the issue it confronts better. Can the organization demonstrate how their actions have impacted their progress?"

4. "What sources are available to increase my confidence in your work? Our research has shown that (the) majority of charities are responsible, honest, and well-managed. Healthy charities demonstrate transparency. Documents such as the organization's form 990 and audited financial statement should be readily available for donors to review."

While I'm not an expert on charities by any means, getting answers to some big-picture questions will certainly help identify whether you believe in the organization's mission and how it intends to execute it with the help of your donation.

Another resource is the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance (BBB WGA), found at www.give.org. BBB WGA reports on 1,300 national charities. About half of the 112 Better Business Bureaus in the U.S. and Canada also report on about 10,000 local charities.

Give.org lists 20 standards in these categories: governance and oversight, measuring effectiveness, finances, and solicitations and informational materials. Then the site concludes: "Meets Standards," "Standards Not Met," "Did Not Disclose," "Unable to Verify" or "Review in Progress."

An example is the American Red Cross, earning a "Meets Standards" on all 20 elements. The site also lists four "Complaints processed by the BBB in the last 36 months," each of which is categorized by type and shown as "addressed."

Finally, let me add a comment from a physician who was chairman of major gifts for a Connecticut hospital for almost three decades: "Ask yourself if you are diluting your efforts by donating to multiple charities. Could you accomplish more by focusing on just a few?" If you believe the latter is a better option, research of the type we've been discussing over the past two weeks will help you concentrate on causes you can support with confidence and passion.

A worthwhile consideration indeed.

Julie Jason, JD, LLM, a personal money manager at Jackson, Grant of Stamford, Conn., and award-winning author, welcomes questions and comments to readers@juliejason.com.


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