It's a good idea to check out charities before contributing your money or time as a volunteer. Make sure that the charity actually does the work it purports to do and also doesn't excessively utilize charitable donations for administrative costs and other spending not directly related to the cause.
It's Your Money and Time
Why should you take the time to check out charitable organizations? There are a few reasons:
- Financial Return: From a purely financial standpoint, your money should yield the highest return possible. If you donate money to a charity that doesn't use the money effectively, your money isn't working as hard as it should. In order to make sure that your money does the most good possible, give it to a charity that is going to use the money in the most effective and efficient way possible.
- Supporting Worthy Causes: There are plenty of worthy causes in need of donations. When you give money to a cause that won't utilize the funds in a responsible manner then you are essentially depriving a worthy cause of the donation.
- Best Use of Your Time: When you donate your time as a volunteer you are giving something quite valuable. Even the most well-funded charity still needs people who are willing to give their time and talents. If you donate time to a charity that won't use your efforts effectively then you're wasting your valuable time.
- Your Intentions: Some charities may appear to support one cause when in fact they actually support another. For example, imagine how embarrassing and infuriating it would be to volunteer money and time to a cause that, on the surface, appears to fund research to stop lung cancer when in fact it turns out to be an organization formed and funded by tobacco companies.
Don't give your time and money blindly without first knowing how your contributions will be used.
How to Check Out Charities
There are a few different websites that are reliable ways to check out charities to ensure they will use donations in the best way possible:
- The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) maintains a list of charities that are eligible for tax-deductible donations. This information is important to know if you intend to deduct your donations from your itemized tax return. Keep in mind that not all charities are eligible for tax-deductible status, and that this designation does not imply an endorsement from the IRS.
- Charity Navigator provides facts about charities such as how much funding they receive, how the fund are being used as well as gives ratings on charities. Charities are rated against similar charities of the same size. To begin your search for a charity, visit Charity Navigator's website and type in the charity's name. You can also search by category or by rating. Once you enter the information, you will be given a list of results and will be able to check out the specific charity's information and rating.
- The Better Business Bureau offers a search tool that allows site visitors to check out specific charities to find out if there are any complaints filed against them. This website also allows people to file complaints as well as search through an expansive library of information regarding giving to charity.
- The American Institute of Philanthropy is an organization that acts as a watchdog for consumers with regards to donating to charity. This group rates charities and offers plenty of information to consumers about the best ways to give to charities in order to make sure the donations are used in the best way possible.
Why take the time to search for a charity on one of these websites before giving? Remember that not all charities use donations in the same way. While some charities minimize administrative costs, others seem to spend donated funds with reckless abandon. In other words, not all charitable causes are created equal with regards to how the money you donate will be spent.
When in Doubt
If you receive a solicitation for a donation - whether it's through the mail, over the phone, or online - don't give money just because you have been asked. An aggressive request for donations should not make you feel compelled to give to a charity that you know nothing about. Make it a habit to always check out charities before donating, and if a particularly aggressive solicitor contacts you for a donation you can tell him or her that you simply do not donate unless you have first researched the charity and how it utilizes funds.