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It’s the End of the Year. What’s a Donor to Do?

(How do donors decide among all the charities?)

The Giving Season as it is known among nonprofit organizations starts on Thanksgiving and runs through December 31st of each year. Many individuals seek to share their good fortune with others, especially at this time of year. Pragmatically, many people are making last-minute giving decisions to increase their tax-deductible donations. Accordingly, it is completely predictable that mailboxes and email in-boxes are filled with more solicitations from nonprofits than at any other time of year.

It seems that every appeal makes a compelling argument for why donors should give their hard earned dollars to a worthwhile cause. But it is not possible to support them all and it can be a daunting task to select organizations that both align with personal philanthropic interests and are well managed. This is where the so-called charity watchdog organizations can provide some help.

The major charity watchdog organizations have very different missions. Charity Navigator and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance perform independent reviews of nonprofits that meet their respective criteria. They publish their ratings on their websites. GuideStar and Great Nonprofits offer information provided by the nonprofits themselves and invite those who are familiar with them to offer independent reviews. By providing information about their missions and governance, charities can receive a seal or badge that at least says they are transparent about sharing information about their missions, services, governance and (in a few cases) results.

Every 501(c)(3) organization (designated as a “charity” by the IRS) should be easily found on the Great Nonprofits and GuideStar websites. Although not all nonprofits will have provided information to earn a seal or badge, there may be independent reviews that can prove helpful to confirm an inclination to support the nonprofit or choose another group with a similar focus.

Not all nonprofits are rated by Charity Navigator or the BBB. Charity Navigator (among other criteria) only considers evaluating organizations that have more than $1 million in annual revenue. The BBB Wise Giving Alliance will review multi-state nonprofits that have either requested a review, have had interest in a review expressed by their users and/or that they consider important enough to initiate a review. Single state charities may be rated by a local BBB chapter. Many nonprofits that have received favorable reviews from the charity watchdogs publish the watchdog seals on their own websites.

Finally, if no or limited information about a nonprofit of interest is available on any of the rating or information sites mentioned, Charity Navigator provides a guide to evaluating nonprofits.

Pete Miragliotta is President of MASST Associates, LLC. MASST’s expert advice helps nonprofits assess and optimize their charity watchdog profiles.