How can you evaluate the organizations who ask for donations? Or to whom you want to donate? Here are some practical questions to ask before donating, joining, promoting, or judging that I hope you’ll find helpful.
Are they a registered public 501(c)(3)?
Search the organization on Charity Navigator to see their ranking.
Search them on Google and explore their work, the ways they report and tell stories, the images they use.
Contact staff members if you would like to make a personal connection. Use the email addresses and phone numbers provided. Legitimate charities would love to hear from potential donors.
What are the organization’s goals?
Are they clearly stated? Could you repeat them to someone else?
Are they measurable, qualitatively and quantitatively?
What are their specific objectives?
How will they be implemented in reaching the goals?
What impact will they have on achieving the goals? Why are these specific objectives chosen?
Who or what is the organization targeting?
What need are they aiming to meet? Why?
Have they included the community in reaching their goals and objectives?
What has the organization accomplished historically?
Did they accurately measure their outcomes?
Were they transparent in reporting?
If they failed to meet a stated objective, have they adjusted their input and goals? Did they learn from previous mistakes? Have they identified potential obstacles and how to overcome them?
Who reported on these goals and outcomes in the past? Is it only staff members or do they have field reports from their targeted people?
Does the organization have sufficient capacity to reach their goals?
In terms of personnel, expertise, connections and networks, finances and gifts-in-kind?
Does the organization measure both outputs and outcomes?
Outputs are usually numerical. Numbers of books donated, numbers of children fed, numbers of wells built, number of people served in an addiction program.
Outcomes represent the actual benefit experienced by a community.
For example: an output is: 15 people went through the addiction recovery program. An outcome is: 9 people quit drinking after completing the addiction recovery program.
According to Shoshon Tamasweet, an NGO fundraiser and consultant, “Most NGOs measure inputs like, “We distributed 1,000 mosquito nets,” or activities, “We conducted 3 health camps.” They don’t measure outcomes, let alone impact. A simple way to think of it is from the perspective of the recipient: How did their life get better? If all they got was a hand-out, there probably is not much impact.”
He concludes with, “While cost/expense ratios are sort-of meaningful, (wasteful overhead, too much spent on administration and marketing), if an organization does not or cannot measure impacts, or at least outcomes, then they are not a good place to invest for change.”
Don’t be fooled by fancy marketing.
Don’t give in to pressure that you must hand over your credit card information NOW!
Do be proactive in following your passion. Find an organization doing work you believe in. This will help you feel more engaged and interested in their work.
Do follow-up with the organizations you donate to. Ask about their goals and progress, check-in with staff members you might know personally.