6 Charitable Giving Internet Research Tools
Jeffrey R. Gottlieb
March 20, 2014
Charitable giving is a wonderful way to create a legacy, not only for yourself, but also to express your values to your children and to encourage them to become better citizens. But if you’re going to donate your hard-earned resources, you want to make wise choices. Part of the process includes working with an estate planning attorney to plan and implement the most efficient and effective methods and vehicles for charitable giving. The other aspect is the selection of qualified charities whose goals and practices best align with your values.
But it’s not always easy to know which charities are worthy. How does one charity compare with another? How does the charity decide what causes to promote? What is their governing structure? What percentage of donations are used on administrative costs? And is the charity qualified under IRS rules such that donations are tax-deductible?
The internet has helped make such information and comparison much more widely accessible. But there is a lot of information out there. How do you sort through it all?
Here are my 6 favorite charity research and comparison websites (click on name for link):
Founded in 2001, Charity Navigator evaluates and rates more than 5,400 charities based on criteria evaluating financial health and accountability/transparency so that donors can make intelligent giving decisions. Their ratings show givers how efficiently they believe a charity will use their support today, how well it has sustained its programs and services over time and their level of commitment to good governance, best practices and openness with information.
Founded in 1994, Guidestar gathers and disseminates information about every single IRS-registered nonprofit organization. They have a mission to revolutionize philanthropy by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving. They provide information on each nonprofit’s mission, legitimacy, impact, reputation, finances, programs, transparency, governance, and more.
Founded in 2007, GiveWell is dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities and publishing the full details of their analysis to help donors decide where to give. Unlike charity evaluators that focus solely on financials, assessing administrative or fundraising costs, GiveWell conducts in-depth research aiming to determine how much good a given program accomplishes (in terms of lives saved, lives improved, etc.) per dollar spent. Rather than trying to rate as many charities as possible, they focus on the few charities that stand out most in order to find and confidently recommend the best giving opportunities possible.
Founded in 1992, CharityWatch bills itself as America’s most independent and assertive charity watchdog. Rather than merely repeating charities’ self-reported finances using simplistic or automated formulas, they delve deep to find the real story of how efficiently charities use your donations to fund the programs you want to support. CharityWatch is also the only national charity watchdog to evaluate social welfare groups that are not eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.
Part of the Better Business Bureau, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance rates charities based on 20 standards for charity accountability, including governance, effectiveness, financing, fundraising and information.
Finally, the IRS provides an Exempt Organizations Select Check tool, which allows users to search for and select an exempt organization and check certain information about its federal tax status and filings. The search allows you to find a charity’s EIN and deductibility status.
In addition to these research tools, of course you should also directly check information on the website of the charity you are researching. Most charities include specific information for planned giving, including the proper legal title and address for the charity. If you don’t find the information you’re looking for, ask. Most charities will be happy to satisfy reasonable requests for prospective donors.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net