A Nonprofit Expert’s 4 Tips for Verifying Organizations Before Donating

One of the biggest call-to-actions we've seen over the past few weeks is to donate. Donate to local bail funds. Donate to families of those who have been unjustly killed. Donate to national organizations. And millions of people answered the call. In fact, news broke on Monday that the Black Lives Matter Foundation had raised $4 million—but the organization holds a very different ideology and isn't in any way connected to the Black Lives Matter movement. To ensure your money is going where you want it to go, Bryce Lord, business manager and associate director of the Helen Bader Institute for Nonprofit Management, says you have to do your research by verifying organizations before donating.

"You see a cause [to donate to], you have that knee jerk reaction, it's like picking up the candy bar in the grocery store at the checkout counter," says Lord. "You just do it knee jerk. The problem that happens, and this is what we're seeing, is that it's impulse giving, and donors aren't doing the homework."

When you know more about the organizations you're donating to, not only are you sure your money is going to the right place, but you're also more likely to form a long-term relationship with that organization and its cause.

"It's wonderful to be free with your money when giving but at the same point, I think every nonprofit fundraiser out there, every nonprofit executive director would say that, along with some money, there really does need to be that connection," says Lord. "You should be doing the homework, and by doing the homework you actually gain more investment in the cause. You're bound to learn more about what that organization is doing." By building this relationship, you're more likely to come back. "Nonprofits want you to give once out of passion but then they want you to continue the relationship and give multiple times."

The last thing you want is your money going to the wrong cause or to an unorganized organization. Lord has a few tips for verifying organizations before donating.

Tips for verifying organizations before donating

1. Do your homework

Lord says that the best donor is an educated donor. One of the easiest things to do is to lookup an organization online.

"Any established nonprofit is going to have a website, and nine times out of 10, they'll have a page to accept donations. If they don't, they're not a very good nonprofit," says Lord. "The most important thing is to look at the history of the organization. Look at the kind of work they do and then see how transparent they are with their information. Are they being secretive or are they letting people know what they're doing with the donors' money?"

Lord recommends watchdog sites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator to look into the history of an organization. "Those are both websites that pull information [from 990 forms], which effectively provide the IRS with confirmation that they are still working as a registered 501(c)(3) charitable organization," says Lord. "And it provides information like who is the point of contact. If there are salaries that are being paid over $100,000 those have to be listed. So there's a lot of information on these 990 forms and organizations like GuideStar or Charity Navigator, pull these public access documents and log them. The more efficiently run organizations monitor those websites and actually make sure that their information is legitimate and up to date, and easily accessible for donors."

2. Don't jump at every fundraiser you see

Between Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, it's easy to feel inundated with posts asking you to donate. Instead of giving a bit to every organization you see, Lord says to pick a few so you can really dedicate the time to do your homework and build that relationship. "It's a big ongoing discussion in the nonprofit world about online giving and how through social media or text, giving can be made so easy," he says. "And nonprofits, of course, they love taking the challenge out or giving." But you don't want to take the easy route. "It's your money and you should be doing the homework," he says. "Find something that speaks to your passion, speaks to your personal interests, your personal experience, and focus on that."

3. Try to donate directly to the organization

"I personally don't give to things like GoFundMe or sites that say something like 'We're raising money for this other organization,'" says Lord. "If I want to give money I'll give it directly to that organization. That way you take out the middleman, you take out any sort of possibility for wrongdoing."

Lord says that by donating through these unaffiliated third parties, you're relinquishing some of your ownership and responsibility to your money. If you come across a GoFundMe for a cause you're interested in, find a way to lear more about it and donate directly to that cause.

"Most organizations are going to have a website," he says. "The Black Lives Matter Global Network has a website with a donation page that links them directly to Act Blue Charities and they're very transparent about how the money's been collected and distributed." (Black Lives Matter uses Act Blue Charities because it is not a registered charity. In order to directly collect donations, they'd have to be registered in every state.)

4. Consider local organizations over national ones

"As much as I appreciate people giving to national causes, I don't care where you live, there's going to be something close to home," says Lord. " If you give to the Black Lives Matter movement on a national level, that's great. But what's going on in your own neighborhood? Because chances are, there are organizations that are doing the same kind of work, with the same kind of focus that are struggling to be able to make their ends meet."

And when an organization is local, it's easier to engage with the cause on a personal level. "You could call them up and talk to them, get an idea of what they're doing in their day-to-day programming, and even in [post-pandemic] times you can actually go visit them and see what they do firsthand."

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