Tips for Choosing a Charity

Nobody wants to give to a sham charity or a nonprofit that's misusing contributions.

Introspection and research are the best ways to protect yourself as a donor.

How to Donate to the Right Nonprofit

  1. Clarify your beliefs and preferences.

    • Do this before you open your checkbook, volunteer your time, or look at that letter from a charity.
    • Think about what matters most to you. The environment? Education? Hunger? Animal welfare? Helping sick children? Economic development?
    • Think about where you want to make an impact. In your neighborhood? Region? The nation? Internationally?
    • Ask yourself if you want to support a large or small charity, a new or an old one.
  2. Make sure mission aligns with your vision.

    • Look at a charity's description on GuideStar, on its Web site, or in its literature.
  3. Verify the charity's legitimacy.

    • Look the nonprofit up on GuideStar to ensure that it is a legitimate tax-exempt organization in good standing with the IRS.
  4. Do your research.

    • Look for clear descriptions of a charity's mission and programs, goals, and achievements. Are the goals measurable? Does the charity use concrete terms to describe its accomplishments?
    • If you compare charities, be sure you compare apples to apples. Compare charities that do the same kind of work, especially if you're looking at their finances. The type of work a charity does can affect its operating costs dramatically.
    • Avoid charities that won't share information or pressure you. Reputable nonprofits will discuss their programs and finances, don't use pressure tactics, are willing to send you literature about their work or direct you to a Web site, and will take "no" for an answer.
  5. Trust your instincts.

    If you still have doubts about a charity, don't contribute to it. Instead, find another nonprofit that does the same kind of work and with which you feel comfortable, then make your donation.

Resources for Researching Nonprofits

  • GuideStar—get a complete picture of the nonprofits you're thinking of supporting
  • Philanthropediafind expert reviews and analyses of thousands of nonprofits working in numerous cause areas
  • GreatNonprofitsread reviews by beneficiaries, board member, volunteers, and others who have firsthand knowledge about a nonprofit

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Infographic illustrating five tips for giving to charity wisely