Chances are that if you’re looking to donate to charity, you want to make an informed decision and be discerning about which foundation you support. Making this choice is about more than just following your heart. In today’s charity landscape, you also have to involve your head to make sure charities match your vision and spend donors’ dollars wisely.  

Make Sure They Match Your Vision

First, make sure you clarify your vision and your values, and check that the organization you’re considering matches them. Boil down your objectives into the values that matter the most to you and your family, and then pursue giving to those groups that support them. A good way to find an organization’s values is to read through any letters, or visit their website and check under the page about their mission.

Do Your Research

The next step in choosing a charity is to perform your own background research. Don’t just trust what others tell you, or what you read in the group’s advertising or on their website. One good resource is GuideStar. This website will provide you with the records of 1.8 million nonprofits registered with the Internal Revenue Service.

The BBC Wise Giving Alliance offers free reviews of 1,300 different charities. This group measures charities through their twenty different accountability standards. They perform their evaluations once every two years. Although they don’t give organizations a specific grade, you’ll normally be able to find out whether an organization passed the evaluation if they specify that they are a BBB accredited charity on their website.

Look Out for Red Flags

Sometimes a nonprofit’s activities and accounting is incomplete or hidden, making suspicious activity difficult to uncover. CharityWatch, formerly the American Institute of Philanthropy, grades charities on an A to F scale. They also work to expose any organizations with deceitful reporting or other abuses.

The group’s president, Daniel Borochoff, recommends keeping an eye out for red flags, such as overvalued gifts in kind, or an overreliance on emotional appeals. Does an organization seem overzealous in their advertising, and yet divert their funds to areas of little importance? These are signs that the organization is not a good steward of their donors’ money.

Being a discerning giver requires insight into your own values, completing research, and being careful to look for any red flags. By performing these steps, you’ll be able to select a charity you love, and one that you will feel comfortable and confident supporting.