It's Harvest for the Hungry week at my kids' school, and they were talking about the benefits of donating cash versus donating actual food. We had a pretty superficial talk about whether that cash was going to a valuable purpose, and how some charities are better than others, and whether overhead cost should be a legitimate indicator of an organization's effectiveness. It got me thinking: what things should I be investigating in a charity? What's really important?
Do A General Internet SearchA quick Google search on the group may give you enough information to check them off your list. Bad news will probably be the first thing that comes up. Does their public persona look like a charity you'd be proud to say you support?
Check Out The RatingsCharity Watch and Charity Navigator are two respected organizations that rank charities based upon a variety of factors. Organizations like this are a great place to find information about a group's overhead, expenses, and sources of income. Both websites also offer ratings. However, it is also important to be sure that you:
Think About How The Charity OperatesIt's great that some programs have very low overhead and most of their revenue goes directly into charitable programs, but sometimes that's not possible. Like my children were discussing, there's a downside to Harvest for the Hungry's food collection: the food needs to get to the people being served. That type of activity can have higher costs than a group that literally takes cash and turns around and doles it back out again. (For example, your typical scholarship program has very low overhead.) It is important that you evaluate the information from the charity rating organizations with respect to the type of work being done by the charity.
Giving to charity is a great thing, but you definitely don't want your charitable contributions to go to waste. Doing just a smidge of research before you give will help ensure that you're supporting worthwhile projects that align with your values and priorities.