December 27, 2018

Four questions to ask yourself before giving to a charity

Before you donate, read this guide from Charity Navigator, a nonprofit that ranks charities based on their financial health, transparency, and accountability.

It’s the season for giving, but this handy guide is helpful all year round. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Does the charity match your passion?

As you consider which charities to support this year, remember there are close to 2 million of them. That means you don’t have to settle for an organization that isn’t a perfect match for your beliefs and goals. No matter what cause you want to support–whether it is providing humanitarian aid to disaster victims, helping our returning troops find work, or finding a cure for a particular disease–there’s a charity out there that matches your intentions. Take the time to find it and confirm (not just assume) it offers the programs and services that match your charitable interests.

Is the charity fiscally responsible, ethical, and effective?

Before you give to any charity this holiday season:

  • Examine the charity’s finances. Financially healthy organizations—those that are both financially efficient and sustainable—have greater flexibility and freedom to pursue their charitable mission.
  • Ensure the charity is accountable and transparent. Charities that are an open book and follow good governance practices are less likely to engage in unethical or irresponsible activities.
  • Look for signs of effectiveness. The charity’s ability to bring about long-lasting and meaningful change in the world is the key reason for their existence and for your donation, so make sure you find evidence of its impact.

Do you trust it enough to give without strings attached?

Donors sometimes like to designate their contributions for specific projects and purposes. While this may be ideal for disaster giving, don’t be the roadblock in your favorite charity’s quest to do good work. Take the time to research your charity so that you can trust them. Then give an unrestricted gift so the charity has the flexibility to respond to changing demands for its services and to spend the money where it is most needed to continue their day-to-day good work.

Does the charity have strong leadership?

Good charities usually have formidable leaders, more so even than in the private sector. Look for a charity with a dynamic, proven leader. Organizations with high turnover usually struggle, and the inability to retain quality leadership is often a red flag for instability.

This article was excerpted from Charity Navigator’s Giving Guide. Visit to see how your favorite charity is rated.

Charity Navigator

Founded in 2001, Charity Navigator has become the nation's largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities. Its team of professional analysts has examined tens of thousands of nonprofit financial documents and developed an unbiased, objective, numbers-based rating system to assess over 9,000 of America's best-known and some lesser known, but worthy, charities.