Here are inspiring stories of 300+ charities. All have met the accountability
  standards of the federal government's charity drive. We tell you how much
  each spends on overhead. You can make an online donation to nearly all.
All Charities A to Z
National/International
Charities Serving
the DC Metro Area
Charities Serving
California
Accountable Government
Adoption
Aging
Animal\Wildlife Protection
Arts
Children
Civil and Human Rights
Conflict Transformation
Conservation
Consumer Protection
Disabilities
Disaster Relief
Domestic Violence
Education
Environmental Protection
Faith-Based Services
Family Support
Health
Homeless
Hospice
Housing
Hunger
International
Jails/Prisons
Legal Services
Medical Research
Mental Health
Military\Veterans Services
Museums
Peace
Poverty
Public Safety
Rural Concerns
Social and Economic Justice
Social Services
Women
Youth
 

How to Decide
Thoughts about Choosing Charities to Support

It's great to be able to choose to support a very broad range of charities.  But it's often not easy to choose!

     We certainly can't tell you -- and shouldn't tell you -- which charities to support.  All we can do is give you more information about a broad range of charities that meet many basic accountability standards.  And give you some ideas about what to consider as you make your choices.

What about low overhead?
     All charities in this service must have combined fund-raising and administrative costs around 25 percent or less, often much less.  We note the costs of each charity.  They vary a lot.
     Should you choose a charity because its costs are among the lowest?  Obviously, if overhead is most important to you, that should be a key consideration.  But the amount a charitable group spends on overhead can vary for reasons other than simply efficiency.  Some charities will inevitably have higher overhead:

  •  Younger charities often have higher costs because they don't have a base of loyal donors built up over many years of work.  Or they aren't as well known as older charities.

  • Smaller charities often have higher costs because the basic administrative expenses -- management, accounting, office space, etc.-- make up a bigger portion of a smaller budget.

  • Charities that appeal to very specific groups of people -- those with a rare disease or minorities or residents of a certain community -- may have higher costs because it's harder for them to raise money from the general public.  At the same time, organizations with a natural and loyal constituency -- such as the alumni of a college -- may find it easier to raise money.

  • Groups that do controversial work may find it harder to raise money because many people prefer to give to organizations doing the type of charitable work that seldom generates controversy, such as feeding hungry children.

  • Groups that rely completely or mostly on volunteers obviously will have very low costs.  Gifts to them can go a long way.  But relying on volunteers can lead to problems such as high turnover.

What about where a charity works?

      Many people prefer to support charities that are working in their own communities.  The work of such charities often seems more concrete.  You can see it.  Your neighbors or your community as a whole may be directly benefiting from their work.  It may be easier to learn about the work of local charities because it is highlighted in a local newspaper, or someone you know may work with the group.  You can work with the group and develop the kind of insight that only comes with close involvement.

      Supporting local charities is great!  Nothing can substitute for direct involvement with a charitable group.  It is the essence of American volunteerism: people coming together to help other people in their own communities.

     But keep in mind that some problems that charities confront aren't easy to tackle at the local level.  Take the problem of air pollution for example.  Often, some of the air pollution experienced in one area is at least partly generated in another area and carried by prevailing winds.  Or water problems are caused by pollution from upstream.  To deal with problems such as these may require a regional or national approach.  A local group working on its own may not be able to have much impact on such problems.

     Other people believe that the people with the most desperate needs are those in extremely poor countries, thus they support charities that work internationally.

What about the way charities help people in need?

     Most people prefer to support charities that provide services directly to people in need: food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, doctors for sick children.  Nothing is quite so gratifying as concretely helping one person in need.  Indeed, many people firmly believe that "charity" means providing a direct service to those in need.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

     Others, however, just as firmly believe that there are many ways to help people in addition to providing something concrete like food, shelter or health care.

      They argue that it is also important to have charitable groups that focus on educating us about a problem we once knew little about, such as Alzheimer's Disease, AIDS, or ozone depletion.

      Or to support groups that give a voice to those whose struggles may otherwise be ignored, such as the poor, minorities, animals, victims of crimes, people with disabilities and many others.

     These people make an interesting argument: sometimes the best way to help the greatest number of people who have similar needs is by educating the public or policy makers or advocating for a program or law.

     Take hunger, for example.  No one would argue against the value of a food drive or a "soup kitchen" as a way to feed hungry people.  But some would argue that the greatest long-term impact on the problem of hunger in America was made by those groups that educated the country about the existence of widespread hunger and pushed for the Food Stamp program in the 1960s.  This program has helped feed tens of millions of children and their families during the following decade.

     We are not arguing that one way of helping people is better than another, only that how a group helps people is an important factor for you to consider when deciding which charities to support.  Our own personal preference is probably for groups that are able to combine providing services with educating people and doing some advocacy.

     Keep in mind that every charity in this information service -- indeed, any organization that can receive tax-deductible gifts -- cannot engage in any partisan political activity.  They can't work for candidates, endorse candidates, make donations to political parties or do any other directly political work.  A few groups that have done these things are now in serious trouble with the IRS.  Charities also have strict limits on the amount of their income they can spend on advocating for their issues.

What about size and name recognition?

     Some charities are known by practically everyone.  Others are unknown to most people.  Some are quite large. Others are tiny.

     If you support a large, well-known charity, you can be pretty sure that this is a group that has been around for awhile and will continue to be around, that is big enough to have an impact and clout, that it will almost certainly have an audit and other policies to ensure accountability.

     If you support a smaller, less well-known charity, your gift may constitute a larger part of its budget.  It may be easier to get involved in other ways, such as by volunteering.  Sometimes, smaller, local groups have a more active volunteer board, if for no other reason than all the board members are local people who can more easily get to board meetings.  Your gift may help the group develop its programs and services.

     We could make very strong arguments for supporting both kinds of charities.  Again, it's your choice!

What about their effectiveness?

     This may be the most important question...but also the toughest to answer.  Much advice about giving focuses on a group's overhead and other measures of its financial accountability.  But a group's programmatic accountability can be every bit as important.  Are its programs or services or advocacy really making a difference for the people it is trying to help or the cause it is trying to advance?

     The best way to determine a group's effectiveness is to somehow get involved with it...by being a volunteer, working on one of its committees, helping it raise money, attending its events or workshops, becoming a member...whatever you can do.

     When you do become involved, you'll be able to see pretty quickly how organized it seems, how committed its staff and volunteers seem to be, how it treats its staff and volunteers, how helpful it seems to be for those it is trying to help, how efficient it is and much more.

     If you can't personally get involved, try to find someone who is involved and ask them what they think about the group.

     Short of this, talk to staff or volunteers and/or ask for and read material about the group. If you do, here are some questions to ask:

  • Does it have at least a simple annual report and/or newsletter.

  • Do they give you a good idea about what the group does?

  • Is it clear how the group is making a difference?

  • Does its newsletter seem like it would be useful for its audience?

  • Does the annual report include some information about its finances?  Is there a list of people and businesses that support the group?

  • Does the report make some attempt to evaluate its work, such as the number of people it served during the past year?

  • Does the material make its work real, perhaps by talking about a specific family or community it helped?

     For the charities in this information service, we think the questions that we have asked them to answer should give you a good start in deciding which ones you would like to support.

Link here to read 10 precautions recommended by the  FTC to avoid charity fraud:

Operation "Missed Giving"

If we can answer any other questions, please do not hesitate to email us at info@charitablechoices.org or call us toll-free at 1-888-410-1999.
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