In September 2017 Hurricane Maria dealt the island of Puerto Rico a brutal blow. The storm destroyed many homes, left an unstable power grid, and wiped out over 80 percent of the island’s annual crops. People were struggling to survive as food supplies, clean water, and medicine ran perilously low. The U.S. territory had to fight for federal government funding for everything from construction materials to recovery efforts—and at the same time, relief programs suffered from “donor fatigue.”
When multiple tragedies happen at the same time, it increases the strain on donors, one of many factors that shape if and how much people donate to charities. These decisions can have profound effects on communities that have suffered disasters. And sadly, sometimes your donations do not get spent on the cause you are donating to.
According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are currently more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States. With so many options, how can you be sure your money is going where it is needed most?
Like a GPS for giving
Charity Navigator is a useful online tool to help you make safe decisions about your donations. Since 2001, the website has helped benefactors in their search for intelligent giving. Charity Navigator has current information on charities organized into a broad range of categories including the most popular and the most followed charities as well as charities that are suffering from financial difficulties. The site also offers a host of resources and advice for first-time and regular donors.
Verify a charity’s claims
Before you donate your money to a specific charity, do your homework. Examine the charity’s financial records. Be sure that the cause is directing at least 75 percent of its budget to the services and programs it is set up to provide. Charity Navigator gives you several options for checking a charity’s background. You can look up a charity through the searchable alphabetical listings, or you can browse specific categories, such as environment, animals, or human services.
Find the most reliable charities
If you want to find out about charities with the best financial transparency and accountability, simply check the Charity Navigator’s four-star rated charities, which currently number about 3,250. Beyond that top tier, the site lists thousands more well-run and effective charities, so you can be sure your donation is reaching its destination. All you have to do is type the organization’s name to see complete details of each charity’s mission, policies, and annual income statements. Other useful information includes the charity’s compensation to leaders, financial performance metrics, and the latest news involving the charity. There’s even an option at the bottom of the page that allows you to check out similar or regional charities.
Another useful tool is Charity Navigator’s Top Ten lists. Clicking here will take you to a range of lists from celebrity-run charities to “10 Charities Worth Watching,” highly-rated nonprofits operating on less than $2 million a year. The most-watched charity is Doctors Without Borders U.S.A., notable for the low pay of its CEO, who made just over $200,000 in fiscal year 2016. Their profile also notes that 89 percent of their finances go to their program and services, and that in 2016 their total revenue amounted to $374,399,344.
By becoming a registered free personal user at Charity Navigator, you can flag specific charities that catch your interest and organize them in your personal charity portfolio so that you can compare them directly. You can share them with your friends or fellow fundraisers. In other words, Charity Navigator makes it easy to do a world of good—and feel confident about where your donations go.
Here are some other charity watchdog sites to help you find a cause you can trust:
Guidestar: This site provides records from more than 1.5 million non-profit organizations which are registered with the IRS.
Charity Watch: This organization was founded 25 years ago as the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP). The group do their own research into how efficiently charities use their donation funds.
BBB Wise Giving Alliance: Although the Better Business Bureau Giving Alliance does not rank charities, it provides reports on around 1,300 national charities that meet all BBB standards.
Corinna Underwood is a British author, uprooted and transplanted to the U.S. She has published hundreds of nonfiction features, articles, and short fiction pieces. She is also the author of Murder and Mystery in Atlanta, and The Darkside Chronicles