What to Ask Before You Write a Check

November 21, 2013 Posted by Jessica Shofler in Donations

Do you know what to ask a charity before you make a donation? Especially with large donations, donors should undergo some level of due diligence before handing over a check. Many donors look at an organization’s website and may even review its Forms 990, but is that enough?

The Wall Street Journal recently confronted this question and determined that these are the main questions to ask before you donate:

1.    What are your goals? For example, do you want your dollars spent on addressing immediate needs or long term solutions. Take some time to consider your own goals before you start researching charities.

2.    Does the organization have clear and specific goals? An organization should be able to clearly articulate its goals, how it plans to accomplish them, and its past results. If clear benchmarks aren’t on an organization’s website, don’t be shy about calling the organization directly to find out.

3.    Who runs the charity? Names of key staff members can be found on an organization’s 990, which you can download for free from GuideStar. Often they are posted on the organization’s website, as well. Consider the skill sets and past experiences of the staff members before making a donation.

4.    Should you donate to a smaller charity? Your donation may have a bigger impact if made to a smaller organization that has strong ties to the local community and is filling in the gaps that larger organizations may miss. To help find these smaller charities, the National Center for Charitable Statistics has a free online database that lists charities by name, mission, and location.

5.    Is there any expert opinion? If you want to donate to an organization within a fast-changing arena, such as environmental protection, find out what experts in the area have to say about the latest developments. This will help you make a more informed decision about which organization is going to be most effective.

6.    Will the organization be around for a while? Figure out whether the organization to which you are donating is stable. Where is the organization getting most of its money? Is all of its funding coming from just one individual? Does it have a reserve that will cover its operations for at least 3 months? Find out.

7.    Go with your first instinct? This is a straightforward one – donating to a charity is ultimately your call.

Do you have any other questions you use to determine whether or not to donate to a charity? If so, share it with us and our readers in the comments below.

NOTE: The information contained herein is not intended to be legal advice and the reader should know that no Attorney-Client relationship or privilege is formed by the posting or reading of this article which is also not intended to solicit business.

Casey Summar, Partner, The Law Firm for Non-Profits,1812 W Burbank Blvd, #7445, Burbank, CA 91506

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