How Donors Should Assess a Charity Before Giving a Donation

We’ll soon be entering into the biggest fundraising season of the year as we go into September, which will ultimately lead us to the holiday months. Despite the fact that fundraising reached the highest levels in 2017, including surpassing $400 billion, fundraising revenue has declined in the first quarter of this year, which should serve as a red flag for nonprofits.

While I hope that fundraising revenue picks up for the nonprofit sector, I also believe that donors should support only charities that are demonstrating impact, growth, and sustainability. The reality is that most donors will never take a look at an organization’s IRS 990 filings, which are publicly available, to see if they should make a charitable donation. In fact, most donors won’t spend more than a few minutes taking a look at an organizations website and seeing if it feels right to them.

Although donors have become more aware of giving strategically, there are still millions of small-level donors who will see a cause, check out the website, love the story and get hooked emotionally and then make a $10 or $20 donation.

The right time for figuring out how to give to a nonprofit, even if it’s $5, is now if you’re someone who will likely consider a charitable contribution this year. If you don’t have the time to review in depth an organization then just take a few minutes to see how well your favorite charity is performing in the following areas.

  • Leadership: If you read my blog regularly, then you understand that I firmly believe in the development of leadership. Just because someone has the title of CEO or executive director, does not mean that they are a leader. You can get a few clues about leadership vision by reviewing the website. First, look at seeing who is in charge (and perhaps serving on the board) of an organization. Ask yourself if the people involved in the cause have relevant credentials. Also, take a look at the website and program itself. If the information is presented in a professional and forward thinking manner, chances are that you have leaders who are looking to be the best in the work they’re doing in your community.
  • Donor Privacy Policy: This year there has been a global discussion about privacy and data. If you’re thinking about giving to a cause, but on their website in their terms of service or in a separate privacy policy page, you don’t see any information about the protection of your information, then you might want to reconsider giving them a donation. Donors should understand if the organization they’re giving to sells or rents their names and information to other organizations (many nonprofits still do this practice). Supporters should also understand how their information is protected, particularly in the digital age when hackers and other nefarious individuals want to steal your information digitally.
  • Innovative Programs: Innovation is the clear sign of leadership. If a nonprofit organization is innovating and testing new ideas and approaches to things, even if they have failures, which are expected, I would support them over a group that’s clearly doing things in the same old ways. If you see creative efforts and programs from a nonprofit, take this as a sign that you might have a good organization to support. The digital age rewards innovators; it does not reward groups that play it safe. No one is saying that organizations have to be reckless with their resources, but they do have to be sensibly testing out and piloting new ideas and models for making an impact.
  • Technology: I understand that some groups can’t afford technology, but if you’re not seeing a substantial use of technological tools, including social media, mobile, etc., then this is a clear sign that the nonprofit is operating in the past. The best groups adapt to change and use the resources available to their advantage. In today’s world, that means technology. As a donor, you should be aware that any group that isn’t using technology is not trying hard enough. There are many grants available and individual donors who understand the need for technology and would be available to support the development of a group’s technology infrastructure–they just haven’t been asked by the charity, and that’s their mistake and speaks volumes about their thinking.

With approximately 1.5 million charities in the U.S. and millions more around the world, if you’re looking to support a great cause as we quickly move into year-end giving, by just considering the aforementioned, you’ll be making a more impactful contribution.

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