Choosing a Non-Profit You Can Trust
According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), over 1.5 million nonprofits are registered in the United States. One and a half million! Based on 2014 population statistics, that equals roughly one nonprofit for every 212 people living in this country. While the purpose of these organizations range from fiscal to philanthropic to fraternity, most nonprofits have altruistic pursuits at heart. Many of them may sound worthy of your hard-earned dollars or too-sparse time, but the truth is, unless you’re a billionaire, supporting all of them in a meaningful way is impossible. With so many excellent options available, how do you decide which non-profit is best?
When it comes down to it, not all not-for-profit organizations are created equal. Consider the following tips when choosing who/what to support with your time, talent, and treasure.
Are you passionate about the organization or cause you are supporting? Do you believe in the work the nonprofit is doing and think the world is a better place because of its existence? Passion becomes especially important if you are volunteering your time, because passion fuels motivation, which can fuel generosity, which can fuel joy. And service is best done with a smile. 🙂 Plus, passion may allow you to risk a little bit more to assist a newer organization reach a place of stability and performance. The world needs people that are willing to take a chance!
Where is the nonprofit located and who do they serve? Is it important to you that you donate your resources to a local organization? Community groups are often supported solely by the communities they serve, while national or international nonprofits (though still worthy of support) generally have a broader financial base.
Do you know anybody that is served by the organization you are wanting to support? If so, what was their experience? Were they treated with dignity and respect, or did they feel marginalized and like a “number”? Does the community that the agency serves think positively about the organization? How well does the organization integrate themselves into the community? New or small organizations may need to put their resources toward service instead of public relations, so keep that in mind as you discern an organization’s reputation.
Financial transparency is an important factor in a nonprofit’s accountability to the resources it has been given. Look for annual reports that summarize the organization’s outcomes and itemize budgets. These reports can be found on the organization’s website, by verbal request, or by searching Google. Charity Navigator (https://www.charitynavigator.org) is a helpful tool when assessing the financial situation of a nonprofit. Charity Navigator condenses a lot of information and clearly outlines metrics of accountability, transparency, and financial performance in order to give ratings on a 4-star system. Salaries of executive staff are also included on the site, as well as the breakdown of donations used for services vs. administration or public relations. Generally speaking, an 80/20 split (80% of income toward services, and 20% combined toward admin and PR) is a good rule of thumb. However, 85% or more toward services is better.
Keep in mind that for some organizations, public relations is also a form of advocacy for the population they serve. For example, an organization that supports rescuing women and children from human trafficking situations may send mailers of personal stories to raise awareness of the issues at hand. If this is the case, the agency may choose to spend slightly more on public relations for this reason. Even so, an 80/20 split is still a great place to start!
Sustainability & Reach
Is the organization happy with status quo, or is it seeking to multiply its reach (within its means) and bring about greater, longer-lasting change? For example, is that same anti-trafficking organization mentioned above working with local authorities to revise local laws and bring offenders to accountability? If an organization fills an immediate need, are they also looking to educate the community about the need and teach others how to help serve? The most sustainable practices seek to invite community members into everyday functions so that an organization’s reach and outcomes are multiplied.
Choosing a nonprofit to support is not always an easy decision. Giving of your time, talent, and treasure is giving a part of yourself, and it’s worth doing the homework to figure out if the values and integrity of an organization match with your own. Even if you don’t have a lot to give, what you do have can make a difference to very real people with very real lives.