Often, when it comes to charity, coming up with the cash to donate or the time to volunteer is the easy part. Finding the right organization to support is a bit harder.
That’s because while you can allow your heart to lead you in a general direction, the final decision needs to be made by your head. Why? Because when you are considering giving away a limited resource—and your money and your time both fall into this category—you need to understand there are more than one million organizations in this country with their hands out. And they are not all equally deserving of your efforts.
It’s perfectly fine—smart, even—to start by making a list of the causes that hit close to home. That could mean your kids’ school, your alma mater, or a friend’s organization. Or it could be more vague: Cancer, hunger, the homeless.
If it’s a small-scale group, like a local school, you probably have a good idea of where the money is going and for what it’s going to be used. But if you’re in the camp that supports a cause or two but doesn’t necessarily know where to put your money, you need to do some research.
My favorite place to start is a database called Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org). On the site, you can type in the name of the charity that interests you, and it will spit back a report detailing the group’s mission, their efficiency in tackling it, as well as how they spend donated money. You can see how much money they took in during the past few years, who heads up the organization, and how much that person is paid. And you can read the ratings given to that charity by the folks at Charity Navigator, as well as comments from other donors. Another solid charity website is guidestar.org.
If it sounds like there are a lot of numbers in that report, that’s because there are. So let me tell you what to zero in on: