You don't need to comb through legal filings and financial disclosure reports. Several websites have done the work of rating charities for you.
Websites dedicated to rating charities will help you find those that really will get your donation to them that need it.
ILLUSTRATION: DAVID HIRJAK/FOTOLIA
Charitable giving declines when people have less money to spend, making it more important than ever to make every donated dollar count. The good news is, the hard work of assimilating information and rating charities has been done for you by such portals as Charity Navigator. With them you can find and compare the performance of thousands of North America-based charitable organizations.
Founded in 2001, Charity Navigator is a wealth of information on how charities spend their (your) money. The variables it evaluates are a charity’s financial efficiency (the amount they spend in order to make money) and financial responsibility (how much does it pay its executives?), and the charity’s potential to sustain its operations into the future. Charity Navigator uses a 4-star rating system to give you the lowdown on over 5,000 organizationss. One click will give you information on, say, the 4-star American Forests, or the 2-star Conservation Northwest.
The same is true of Network for Good and Just Give, both of which link to the Guidestar database of charities, which has been maintained since 1994. The Guidestar profiles encompass numerous small nonprofit agencies as well as the biggies, and you can quickly see if funding is up, down, or steady.
What if you have time to give, but not money? In addition to accepting agency-specific cash donations, the Network For Good database can link volunteers with agencies who need them. For example, when I searched for volunteer needs among food banks in Virginia, two clicks took me to a list of eight open volunteer positions in my area.
Even with the help of databases such as Charity Navigator, take the time to actually look at an agency’s website before you write a check, especially if you plan to give to a small, local group. “You want to see a board of directors of at least 10 people, which indicates a strong community base,” advises Roger Kienzle, vice president of finance and IT at United Way in Roanoke, Va. “There should also be several funding sources, which gives the agency financial stability.”
Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.