How to Choose a Nonprofit or Charity to Support
Making Your Charitable Giving More Impactful
There's no shortage of good causes vying for your individual or your organization's support.
You'll likely be spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing a charity, whether you've decided to run a marathon or hope to persuade your company to "give something back" to its local community.
Also, choosing which organizations to support is even more fraught when public trust in charites has been eroded by revelations such as 2018's sexual harassment and exploitation scandal in the international development sector.
In this article, we explore a structured approach for picking a nonprofit or charity to support, whether personally or for your organization.
Country-specific guidelines – which include how nonprofits and charities are defined, tax exemption rules, and funding regulations – go beyond the scope of this article. You can read more about the U.S. sector here and the U.K., here.
The Benefits of Giving
Performing Random Acts of Kindness make us feel "good inside," but giving to charities and nonprofits can be as good for business as it is for our soul.
Research shows that giving makes us happier as individuals, teams and organizations. Engagement, morale and teamwork can all receive a welcome boost from supporting charity.
It can also play a significant and strategic role in how your customers or the general public perceive your organization.
Chances are, your organization wants to be – and to be seen as – a force for good. Supporting charitable causes is a great way to achieve this. (But be careful to guard against "greenwashing" – charity is about more than just good publicity.)
More importantly, giving has wider social benefits, such as helping to alleviate global poverty, or addressing environmental issues. And, as research fellow Heather McLeod Grant highlighted in her Expert Interview with Mind Tools, nonprofit organizations often "fill in the gaps" that government and commercial corporations can miss, such as animal welfare or the arts.
How to Choose the "Right" Nonprofit or Charity
1. Know Your Rationale
Your choice of nonprofit depends on you knowing why you want to support one at all.
For example, you might want to develop a long-term strategic partnership, or to develop your organization's corporate social responsibilty. Or, perhaps you want to raise money as an incentive to achieve a personal goal, like running a marathon.
You might be helping co-workers to find a suitable nonprofit to support in the wake of a natural disaster, or the illness of a team or family member. In any case, you'll need a cause with a meaningful connection that will motivate you and as many other people as possible.
2. Determine Your Criteria
Next, identify your criteria. This step will help you to pinpoint not just a relevant organization, but the right organization to support. Key considerations include:
- What and how much you can afford. Remember, your support doesn't have to be financial. You could give time, people, expertise, or other resources.
The kind of organization that you'd like to support. Local, national, international? Big or small? Your help might go further with a small, local charity, and you are likely to be able to see the direct outcome of your contributions. But the impact may be smaller.
Supporting a larger, more prominent charity with ambitious goals may suit if your motivations are more strategic or you want to see more widespread change.
- One organization, or several? You may choose to contribute to one charity, or to divide your support among several.
- How long you'll partner with them. Would you rotate your chosen charity or nonprofit every quarter or year, or establish a long-term agreement?
Whether you want to focus on specific causes or projects. Consider common interests and natural connections, and issues that are important to you or that could offer a strategic advantage.
Think also about concerns that are important to your customers and team members. This will show that you care about what matters to them, and encourage them to get involved.
- The kind of relationship you want. Are you offering support anonymously, once only, or seeking a formal partnership? What would be the nature of that partnership? Agreements can include endorsements, advertising opportunities, and full-on strategic alliances.
- Whether you'll promote your involvement. Weigh up the pros and cons, as publicity can be viewed as self-serving rather than charitable.
- The standards you must uphold. Are there any particular standards of conduct that you will insist on?
The impact of your support will be much greater if you give regularly to one organization, compared with scattering your support thinly and widely. Ad hoc donations are expensive to process, and don't help nonprofits to plan their income and the work that they can do as a result.
3. Research the Field
Your next step is to research the organizations that you could support.
Some are rarely out of the public eye, whereas others struggle to make their voices heard. And, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations are registered in the U.S., so, it's well worth taking your time over this step.
Good places to look for ideas include:
- GuideStar.org and Greatnonprofits.org in the U.S.
- The Charity Commission in the U.K.
- Everyclick.com for international organizations.
- Nominations from your team.
(You can also use these sources when evaluating your shortlist, in Step 4.)
4. Review the Organizations
Evaluate potential charities against your rationale and criteria, until you have a shortlist. For example, if you want to make a strategic or values-led decision, you would likely compare organizations' mission and vision statements with your own.
Also, it's important to check that each shortlisted organization is well governed – you don't want your gift to be wasted! So, select your top three or four options, and do some "due diligence" by asking the following questions:
- What does the organization actually do? Be sure that the work it does is work that you want to support.
- Is it making progress towards its goals? Bear in mind that slow progress can reflect the organization's mission – some challenges inevitably take time to resolve.
- What is its financial situation? Trustworthy charities and nonprofits will be open about their financial results. Ask for annual reports, so that you can check their status.
- How large are its overheads? Larger nonprofits will often have higher administration costs due to the complexity of managing the organization, so not all of your contribution will reach the "front line."
- Is it well managed? Check that controls are in place to prevent wrongdoing and misuse of contributions. Equally, it should recruit suitably skilled staff and volunteers to do a good job.
- What reputation does it have? Be sure to check whether any negative reports have appeared in the media recently.
- Do you trust them? Your answer may come down to a gut feeling.
Such in-depth research might seem excessive when you're looking to make a small, one-off, personal donation. But it can be crucial to your reputation, standing and success when you're seeking a deeper, especially corporate, relationship.
Whether the decision is yours, your manager's, or the board's, you'll often need other people to "buy in" to the cause that you've chosen.
Wherever possible, involve your team members in the decision-making process. This will likely increase their sense of personal as well as financial investment. (Multi-voting is a robust, fair way to make a team decision.)
If it's a more strategic call, you'll need to "sell" your findings to your manager or to the board more formally.
Before you make your decision, you may want to consider a low-risk trial run. Lend your support in a small way, and assess whether you're happy with the organization's accountability, transparency and trustworthiness before you commit.
If the trial is successful, great! Work out any next steps together, and grow your relationship. But if you're not impressed, start afresh with another organization.
6. Keep People Engaged
Maintain your stakeholders' interest and enthusiasm by providing regular updates on the nonprofit's work, and on how your organization's contribution was used.
You could invite someone from the charity to deliver a presentation, too. Hearing directly from the organization, or from a beneficiary of its work, can be a powerful way to demonstrate the importance of your involvement.
You might be able to get your own people involved, too – for example, with "volunteering days," where staff can take paid days off to work with a charity.
You could also ask them for ideas about how to continue your support; they may come up with unusual and innovative ideas. Consider setting up a cross-department committee that takes the lead on future fundraising and outreach projects.
7. Follow the Organization's Progress
You'll want to know that your contribution is having an impact, and to feel confident that the organization continues to need and deserve your support. So, don't be afraid to follow its progress and to keep your support under review.
Giving to a charitable cause is a great thing to do. It can make you feel good and have a wide, positive impact, both within and beyond your organization.
To choose a charity or nonprofit to support, work through these stages:
- Know your rationale.
- Determine your criteria.
- Research the field.
- Review the organizations.
- Keep people engaged.
- Follow the organization's progress.