Dear Deborah,

I often receive mailings from religious charities with requests for donations. I would like to give, but I want to make sure I’m giving to an organization in good standing. Are there any sources where I can find information on these charities? -- Susan

It’s truly important to be a savvy and informed donor. You’ll want to identify your favorite causes and their goals, evaluating the financial health of charities before donating. 

The best resource for would-be donors is Charity Navigator. It is America’s largest charity rater, rating more than 5500 charities that ask for donations from the general public. This organization only evaluates charities that are granted tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS, and filing the form 990. 

This charity rater is independent of the charities it evaluates. It doesn’t accept contributions from the non-profit organizations it appraises.

The Charity Navigator Web site helps to determine whether the non-profits have their financial house in order. It rates the charities on their financial records, their transparency, and accountability. Information on the charities’ revenues, expenses, net assets, and leaders’ compensation is provided. 

Some categories of listed charities are education, health, human services, international, and religion. Conduct a search by entering the charity name at the top of the home page. When comparing charities, you can compare up to five charities at a time with side-by-side comparisons. The web site also offers peer group comparisons.

You can view U.S.-based charities that work in countries around the world. For example, it lists 39 rated charities working in Brazil, including Child Evangelism Fellowship, Doctors Without Borders USA, Operation Blessing International, and World Vision. 

Charity Navigator promotes intelligent giving with its “Top Ten Best Practices of Savvy Donors” listed below:

1. Be proactive in your giving.

2. Hang up the phone and eliminate the middleman.

3. Be careful of sound-alike names.

4. Confirm 501(c)(3) status.

5. Check the charity’s commitment to accountability and transparency.

6. Obtain copies of its financial records.

7. Review executive compensation.

8. Start a dialogue to investigate its programmatic results.

9. Concentrate your giving.

10. Share your intentions and make a long-term commitment.

The Web site also offers tips on how to protect yourself from online scams, what to do when a charity calls, and how to stop unwanted solicitations by mail.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint required.

Deborah Nayrocker writes on personal money management topics, showing others how to take control of their financial future. She is the award-winning author of The Art of Debt-Free Living and the popular 12-lesson Bible study Living a Balanced Financial Life. Her Web site is www.ArtofDebt-FreeLiving.com.

Publication date: July 25, 2012