Giving to charity is one way people step outside their own lives and find means to improve the world. Charities are organizations specifically organized so donations can efficiently benefit the largest range of people and places, allowing people to extend their charitable reach as far as they’d like. Whether you donate your small business’s furniture to companies recovering after a natural disaster or give money to the American Red Cross, charitable causes take many shapes. The choice to donate allows great freedom, but the choice must be an educated one to ensure donations are effective in actually helping a cause. These essential tips for choosing a charity take into account the organization’s background and provide a checklist to follow as you strive to serve something beyond yourself.
Make a Mission Statement
Businesses and charities describe their missions for operation, so you should as well. Even if you consider your donation to be small, this step formalizes the practice, forces you to take it seriously from the start, and helps you avoid donating to a cause you don’t truly feel invested in.
Do some internal digging, and ask yourself why you’re feeling the urge to donate in the first place. The impetus behind donating can give you insight into what causes you care about and make donating a really personal activity for you. Perhaps you want to serve others because you’ve been mistreated by those close to you and are passionate about justice. This experience may lend itself to donating to a domestic violence shelter or human trafficking prevention agency. Or maybe you grew up in a war-torn or otherwise disrupted area like Syria or Puerto Rico. You may want to focus on humanitarian aid organizations to allow the place you love to recover. Whatever personal sense of purpose you uncover, it will help you search for the right charity while preparing you to find fulfillment and give well into the future.
Make sure your mission is specific as well. Specifying what you’d donate and how often is a step you can take to further narrow down charity options while adding accountability to your giving. Are you interested in only monetary giving? Donating money allows your options to remain flexible. Or do you have access to tangible items on a consistent basis? Whether your company donates secondhand supplies or you can easily buy wholesale kids' toys, this access can point you toward charities that prioritize item donations.
Make Sure a Charity is Legitimate and Responsible
Another tip for choosing a charity is vet your charity prospects thoroughly. Once you’ve identified your interests, you can begin checking to see if specific charities responsibly serve their cause. GuideStar is a helpful resource for searching for charities guaranteed to be registered with the IRS and thus serves as a place to start browsing and a tool for verifying whether charities are legitimate. They list over 1.8 million nonprofits too, so you can truly cast your search net wide. If you’d like, there are even advanced data metrics you can pay to access, which will more precisely determine whether a charity is right for you.
One way you can do your own research is evaluating if charities have adequate mission statements and attainable goals for their cause. One useful practice is to determine if they employ SMART goals; namely, do they have specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound objectives? Specific goals are not vague and contain significant detail. Measurable ones have specific metrics in place to track progress and answer people’s questions about the cause’s success. Achievable targets are realistic given the capabilities of the organization. Relevant goals make sense given the charity’s stated mission. And time-bound commitments have deadlines. If you can check these boxes, then that charity is likely set up to address needs successfully and put your money or items to good use.
A charity’s measurables and established deadlines are handy for checking in on the organization’s work after you’ve committed your resources. Communicate with representatives about the results of various initiatives to make sure you want to stay with them in the future. But one note—some impact is more difficult to measure than others. Projects aimed at reducing noise pollution in a nearby city, for example, may take at least a decade to show appreciable progress, and climate-oriented plans may need even more time to make a dent. Still, even with harder-to-measure projects, make the effort to keep communication open with your charity about what it’s doing. One way to compensate for a lack of viable measurable data could involve checking to see if credible research backs what charities are doing. Research in a controlled setting establishes a basis for charities to act with a measure of confidence. This is comforting because it verifies a source of authority that stands even if data is unreliable or doesn’t indicate progress.
Rather than making phone calls and checking websites all day, it’s more practical to get on-the-ground knowledge of the work a charity does. This is a way to check whether their work is relevant to their stated mission. While some projects (like overseas ventures) are more difficult to observe, you can meet many charities where they work. And what better way to see a charity at work than volunteering to help them out? That way you can potentially become emotionally invested as you observe them. Spend a day building homes in an area hit by a tornado or work an intake desk for a mental health agency. Afterward you’ll have a sense of whether you want to donate.
It’s also important to consider the scope of your charitable giving. If you are split between a large, well-known organization and a smaller local one, consider supporting the small organization whose financial future is not as guaranteed. They may need your support in order to keep serving. If you do go with a larger charity with a broader service area, though, you could potentially aid people you wouldn’t ordinarily meet. It doesn’t matter, after all, if you’re donating or volunteering, next door or abroad, as long as some good is accomplished during the process.