Learning about charities

It’s that time of year. Every other minute it feels like you’re getting a letter or a phone call looking for your year-end bonus money and good will. We’re certainly stepping up some of our fundraising efforts now, we’d be silly not to.

The current issue of [PC World](http://www.pcworld.com) has [an article](http://www.pcworld.com/howto/article/0,aid,122921,00.asp) about how you can use the web to find out about the charity that is asking for your money. It’s a good read. Truth is, just saying that you’re a nonprofit charity isn’t enough to go on. [We](http://www.c-three.org) are now officially a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The IRS changed the application form this year so there are a lot more questions to answer. I’m told that the IRS always asked these questions, they’re just now doing it up front instead of asking the questions later.

My only quibble about the PC World article is here:

>A good place to start your research is at [Charity Navigator,](http://www.charitynavigator) an easy-to-use site with detailed information on more than 4200 nonprofit charitable organizations in the United States. Charity Navigator gives charities star ratings based on how well their financial performance compares to ideal practices, as determined by philanthropy experts (four stars is best). You can search for charities by name, location, category (for example, animals or human services), scope (local, national, or international), or star rating, among other criteria.

Charity Navigator is a great site. However, and the PC World article doesn’t make this clear, it only lists about 4000 charities. Just the big ones. One might assume that if a charity isn’t listed on that site, that it’s less legitimate. Not true. Once again, Charity Navigator only takes the time to investigate the major charitable organizations. [American Cancer Society](http://www.cancer.org) is [there](http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm/bay/search.summary/orgid/6495.htm). Just about any smaller nonprofit is not. When deciding how to spend your money, you shouldn’t ignore a smaller charity. You may have a better chance of your money going to a targeted specific cause (oh, let’s say colorectal cancer research as an example off the top of my head) by donating to a smaller charity not on Charity Navigator.

> Charity Navigator, America’s premier independent charity evaluator, works to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the financial health of America’s **largest** charities.

A search of “colorectal” on Charity Navigator pulls up 3 charities. A search of “colorectal” on [Guidestar](http://www.guidestar.org) which indexes all public charities lists 42 charities, [ours included](http://www.guidestar.org/pqShowGsReport.do?npoId=100742020).

So how do you know if a charity is “good”? Ask them. This is good advice:

>While you’re exploring a charity’s site, look for a concise mission statement describing the organization’s goals and principles, as well as for specific information on how it strives to meet those goals. You should also be able to find regular updates about work the group has done, demonstrating to donors that their contributions are being put to worthwhile use.

>Make sure that the site lists contact information, including a physical address, a phone number, and an e-mail address. It’s a good idea to contact the organization directly, if only to confirm that the addresses aren’t bogus. Any organization that accepts donations, financial or otherwise, should be responsive to questions or requests for more information. If the site accepts online donations, make sure it uses encryption (look for the closed-lock icon or for “https” in the site’s URL).

I know we are legit, so I’m more than happy to answer any questions that anyone has about our finances and what we’re doing with the money we’re raising. If you want to know more about a charity before donating, ask questions…if you get anything but straight answers then you know to stay away.

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