How are you supposed to know where to donate?

It’s that time of year. Your Facebook news feed, Twitter, and mailboxes are full of asks. Campaigns. Stories of the great work people are doing around the world. It’s hard to know where to give. Who to trust. And yet this is the most important donation week for nonprofits. They depend on our donations and generosity to do the great work that they do. Which poses the question: Where do I donate, and is my donation REALLY making an impact?

I have a few rules of thumb I like to follow when choosing where to give. I hope this helps you decide where to make your end of year (tax deductible!) gift(s) this year.

1. Is it a cause I’m passionate about? This should be a no-brainer, but give where you care! Personally I’m passionate about women’s and children’s rights, and education. So I give to organizations that do this great work. It helps narrow down the opportunities. Most organizations keep a blog – I love reading the most recent stories to hear about the impact that donor dollars are having, and to know where MY dollars will go if and when I choose to give.

2. Do I know someone in the organization? You can often trust an organizations authenticity and transparency if people you already know and trust are in the inner-circle. Let your friends vouch for an organizations awesomeness. If they’re volunteering or working there, it’s probably a good place to invest your life-changing dollars.

3. How much is actually going to programs vs. overhead? This is a question I get often and can be found easily with a few little tricks. First, login to http://www.guidestar.com. Look up your organization (we’ll use The SOLD Project as an example here). Click on ‘Form 990’ and download the most recent. Scroll to the bottom of page 2 where it says ‘Total Program Service Expenses’. In this case, $189,394 in 2011. Then scroll to page 9 for ‘Total Revenue’ which is $223,604.  Which means that nearly 85% is going towards programs. This is exceptional – generally by rule of thumb you want to look for organizations that have at least 80% going to programs. Keep in mind that newer organizations will take some time to get off the ground and their admin might be a little higher, so there is some give and take.

4. I’m partial to grassroots. There are pro’s and con’s to any size of an organization. Smaller often means deeper impact on one life because the organization is able to focus on relationship and is in-the-know about the lives of the people they are affecting. Larger organizations, on the other hand, can often lack having intimate relationships with the communities that they work in (right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing) but can make dramatic strides in times of disaster or various political scenarios. Personally I would rather give to an organization that is going deep not wide.

To get you started, here are some organizations I’ve chosen to support over the years that are doing great work. I encourage you to check them out, and consider giving this year!

The SOLD Project | Prevention of Child Prostitution through educational initiatives in Thailand. I happen to be biased to this organization 🙂

Freely in Hope | Restoring justice, dignity and hope by liberating women and their families from the bondages of poverty. Founded by a dear friend who gives her talents and heart to this work. They are primarily in Africa.

These Numbers Have Faces | An international education nonprofit helping young people in Africa attend college, become leaders, and transform their countries forever. Founded by a fellow Westmont alumni, they are truly making a difference in Africa.

The THIRST Project | Providing clean drinking water around the world. Founded by a friend, I’ve also had dear friends volunteer and work with them. They are legit. And 100% of your donation goes towards building a well.

These are just a few of mine – how do you choose where to give?

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