Investigating Charities

It’s great to be a charitable person, but be safe and smart about where you give your hard-earned money.

Here are some tips and guides on checking out charities before giving a donation. Most of these sites are free, or have a subscription required for more in-depth reports.

Notes:

  • Don’t fret if a charity you are interested in doesn’t show up on one of these investigation websites. It doesn’t automatically mean it isn’t legitimate. The charity could be very small, or very local and/or just not captured for evaluation. In that case, the best place to search is the Internal Revenue Service Tax Exempt Organization Search site to see if they have filed a Form 990. If a U.S. charity does not have any filings with the I.R.S., then be concerned and ask some questions. Don’t be afraid to inquire directly with the charity, and with an independent third-party to confirm that they are trustworthy for your donation.
  • One thing that you may want to pay attention to in these results is the percentage of donations that a charity puts towards their mission, whether it be feeding the food insecure or housing for the unsheltered. Some legitimate charities have a high percentage of their donations go to administrative and marketing costs. Ultimately, it’s your money, so evaluate and decide what is best for you. Read, Where Your Donation Dollars Go (2013)
  • Be cautious with GoFundMe and other crowdsourced fundraising initiatives. While there can be legitimate crowdsourced fundraising sites, it’s also an easy breeding ground for scammers. Do your research. If something feels fishy about it, find another way to donate.
  • The five sites below primarily deal with organizations in the U.S. — but, search for your specific non-U.S. charity to be sure. See point number six below for links to non-U.S. organizations. This is not a comprehensive list, but some guidance of where to get started.
“No one has ever become poor by giving.” ―Anne Frank

Charity Investigation Sites:

  1. CharityNavigator.org
    This site allows you to search by name and you can view their assessment of the charity. Some charities will have gaps in the information, but what Charity Navigator offers is an overview so that you can get to know the charity better.
Get an overview of the charity before donating.
See where each charity allots their money.

2. GuideStar.org
This site also provides a breakdown of a charity’s expenses, their mission statement, and other pertinent information.

Get to know more about the charity of your choice.

3. CharityWatch.org
This site didn’t have the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society listed, as the previous two sites. But, they have a lot of big-name charities that are popular.

You can search for “Top Rated Charities” on CharityWatch.

4. Give.org
This site is affiliated with the Better Business Bureau and provides pretty thorough reports about charities. You can also go to the BBB site directly, but Give.org is their affiliated charity site.

The Better Business Bureau is a good barometer if a charity is legit or not.

5. Internal Revenue Service
The Tax Exempt Organization Search provides copies of the documentation a legit charity in the U.S. needs to submit in order to maintain their charity and/or non-profit status. You specifically want to look for a Form 990 series to view what all the charity has reported to the U.S. government. This is likely one of the most solid ways to determine if a charity is legitimate, is if they file with the Internal Revenue Service.

Check with the IRS to see if the charity you are interested in is actually reporting to the government!

6. Non-U.S. Resources
Generally speaking, the basic rules apply to researching charities outside the U.S. as it does for inside the U.S. — checking tax filings and/or government registration as a legitimate charity. If the country you are interested in isn’t listed below, look for that country’s tax and/or charity registration sites.

Australia — Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission
Canada — Revenue Agency’s Charities List and Charity Data
New Zealand — Charities Services
United Kingdom — Charity Commission for England and Wales

Article: Charity Abroad: U.S. Donors’ Options for International Philanthropy

Giving is good, just be sure you know where your money is going and how it will be used!

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