If you are looking to make a positive impact in the world, giving to charity is one of the most direct ways that you can contribute. But, with over 1.5 million different nonprofits in the United States alone, figuring out how to give in a meaningful, impactful way can be an incredibly daunting task. Here are some ways for you to narrow down the causes and charities that will be most meaningful for you:
#1: Ask yourself what kind of impact you’d like to have.
There are many different ways to create positive change in the world. To find what works best for you, you may have to do a little soul-searching. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:
- Which community am I most interested in connecting with or improving (local, national, global, etc)?
- What do I think are the biggest challenges that this community faces?
- What are the most effective ways to tackle these challenges (ie. raising awareness about an oft-overlooked issue, advocating for people in need, direct aid or services, etc.)?
#2: Do your research – both of the issues, and the charities.
Once you have an idea of what issues you care about, take some time to learn more about them. You might be surprised to find that issues in your local community look different when you take them to a more global level (ex. urban poverty in the U.S. is very different from poverty in rural communities around the globe) or that certain approaches have proven more impactful than others (ex. evidence-based vs. traditional approaches to mental health care). Once you have a solid understanding of the issue you are most interested in addressing, search for charities that share your values and take an effective, tested approach to solving social problems.
#3: Understand the impact that a charity is having.
As the non-profit landscape is evolving, more and more philanthropists are choosing to judge charities based on the impact of their work, rather than overhead ratios. This is a fantastic shift, but what does it mean for you as a donor? It means there are even more ways for you to see how your donation can make a difference. Look at a charity’s website, their GuideStar report (particularly the Impact tab), or just talk to a representative of that charity to learn more about their impact before deciding to give. Here are a few things to look for:
- How many people does the organization reach every year? How intensive is the service that they are receiving (long-term treatment vs. a one-time event vs. information/awareness campaigns)?
- Is the intended effect clear? How does the organization know if its programs are achieving their desired result?
- Is there a clear link between their program goals and overall mission?
- Is there data to back up their successes?
- Have their programs been able to adapt to changing needs?
#4: Make sure the charity has sound and ethical management practices.
No one wants to give to a charity and then find out later that it was mismanaged. A quick look at GuideStar will tell you if an organization has filed as a charity with the IRS and will include a record of their filings. If you want to let someone else do the work of digging through them, Give.org will include ratings from the Better Business Bureau and flags areas where ethical standards were not met – for example, if an organization does not have a conflict of interest policy or if they do not disclose their expenses in a transparent way. Please note that regional charities will have a separate Better Business Bureau listing and will not appear on Give.org.
Once you’ve done all of your research, you should have what you need to pick a charity (or even more than one of them!) that you will feel good about supporting.
Want to support a charity, but don’t have cash to spare? Volunteering is a great way to make an impact while getting some incredible hands-on experience for yourself. Check out my recent post on that subject here.
Have questions? Send me an email, or leave a message in the comments section below. As always, thanks for reading!