Have you ever wondered what questions you should ask of a charity if you’re going to make a gift to them?

A small number of donors take the time or the effort to make a considered and thoughtful gift to a nonprofit, but I think more of us should be doing a little more due diligence.

It doesn’t matter if you give $5 or $5 million. There are some things you can do to make sure your money is well spent and is making an impact. Each of the following points provides you with the picture of an organization that’s got its act together.

  • Website: I attend conferences, and at times I’m asked to do public speaking. Sometimes I’ve asked the audience this simple question, “How many of you have a website?” Unbelievably, I’ve stood there and watched only about half the hands go up. Then I’ve asked, “How many of you have a website you’re proud of?” And even fewer hands go up.                                                    

In today’s world, this makes no sense. If you hear of a nonprofit and want to give to the organization but don’t see a website or don’t see a site that looks like there’s been some real effort put into it, you may want to reconsider your gift. Ask yourself why that’s the case, or better still, ask them directly.

When you’re looking at the site, you want to see one that of an organization that is transparent, which includes the names of management (at minimum), board members, programs, and ideally, they’re financial information.

  • Social Media: This is another important aspect of marketing that is essential in today’s world. Check Facebook and see if the organization where you want to donate has a Facebook page. If they don’t, you have to ask yourself why that’s the case. Even the smallest organizations that my social enterprise works with which earn less than $100,000 in a year have Facebook pages. However, I’m also aware that a lot of charities don’t, and it’s a missed opportunity. Facebook is the king of social media and has been for years, as you know. You have to wonder why a nonprofit is not on Facebook and other social media platforms in this day and age. 
  • Financials: As a donor, you care where your money goes, don’t you? You work hard for your hard earned cash, and you want to make sure that every dollar is spent well to make the greatest impact possible. The more sophisticated nonprofits that understand the value of transparency and information for the public and donors provide their financials right on their website. It’s usually found in the “About Us” area. If they are good about being transparent, you’ll typically see their 990 IRS filing or an annual report, which will include their financials. A 990 is a regulatory tool that provides the government and the public information about the financials of a nonprofit. Not all nonprofits have to file a 990 depending on their receipts. For more details about which organizations need to file a 990, you can click here for a quick article.

When you understand the financials of an organization, you’ll understand several aspects of the organization, including how much is directed to program expenses, if the executive salaries are in line with the industry average, and how much is spent on fundraising. You can find 990s for organizations which have filed them with the IRS by going to GuideStar.

By the way, if an organization has not published their 990s or audited financials on their website, or if you don’t see them on Guidestar, but you still want to give a donation, you should call and ask them. These documents should be readily available.

  • Mission/Goals/Measurement: A nonprofit should have on its website, its material or if you call, a mission that’s easy to understand––and explain. If you don’t see or hear it explained concisely, you have to wonder how they are delivering on their mission through their programs.

 For me, I also want to see the vision, which is exemplified by the goals (or a vision statement). You have to know where an organization is going. What’s the view of the future, and more importantly, what are the facts and stats that they’re using to demonstrate that they are, in fact, making a difference? If you don’t see that, you have to wonder what’s going on.

I’m one of those people who believe there are one too many nonprofits out there doing the same thing, and many are not being effective. I think we should reward the organizations that are the best in class. I believe in competition, even in the nonprofit sector. All nonprofits should strive to be the best, and those that don’t have that desire should probably close their doors. I’m sure you may agree with me as a donor.

The next time you’re thinking of putting your card down and transferring money to a nonprofit, take five minutes to check out their website. Ask yourself what you see. Do you see the best or do you see an organization that couldn’t be bothered? If you see the latter, ask yourself why you should give your money to them? Reward the nonprofit down the street that is making it happen.


Author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: How to Dominate Your Fundraising to Create Your Success” (Free Digital Download)

© 2017 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.