Williamsburg, Va., and Washington, D.C.—GuideStar, the public charity that connects people with nonprofit information, offers these suggestions for donors who want to help victims of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita but don't know which charity to support:
Identify your preferences."Disaster relief" comes in many forms—emergency shelter, food, clothing, potable water, medical assistance, even communications as aid workers coordinate activities and survivors search for family members.
Think about which activities you want to support. There's no right or wrong answer, just what's right for you.
Focus on the mission.
- Look at each charity's description in the GuideStar search results, on its Web site, or in its literature.
- Find the nonprofits that fit your criteria.
All nonprofits listed on GuideStar are either registered with the IRS or have provided proof that they meet the IRS criteria for exempt organizations. If a charity you are thinking of supporting is not on GuideStar, ask to see its letter of determination. If the organization is faith based, ask to see its official listing in a directory for its denomination.
Look at how the charity defines its goals and evaluates its own performance.An effective charity:
- Has specific, measurable goals.
- Uses concrete criteria to describe its achievements ("Provided shelter to 1,000 hurricane victims," not "Helped hurricane victims").
Remember that, although financial measures such as administrative and program ratios are important, they are only one part of the picture. The true measure of a charity's effectiveness is whether it accomplishes its mission.
Avoid charities that won't share information or that pressure you.Reputable nonprofits:
- Will discuss their programs and finances.
- Don't use pressure tactics.
- Are willing to send you literature about their work or direct you to a Web site.
- Will take "no" for an answer.
- Will answer questions about how your contribution will be used.
Trust your instincts.If you still have doubts about a charity, don't contribute to it. Instead, find another nonprofit that does the same kind of work and with which you feel comfortable, then make your donation.