How to: giving research
A daunting task
At Mite, we work with partner organizations of all sizes to reach people in need and bring outstanding, impactful outreach opportunities to our community of givers. Researching non-profits can be vastly different based on the non-profit's size. Finding information on a multinational charitable organization is one thing, but getting actionable intel on a smaller non-profit is another story. It can take months to track down individuals in the know at smaller non-profits. How about finding financial information? That's certainly not readily available. But these smaller charities are often the ones that are getting the best work done cost-effectively, and they are an excellent place to find impactful projects.
So how does a person whose job isn't researching charities for grant purposes get information on smaller non-profits so that an educated giving experience can happen? We don't have all the answers, but we can provide some direction.
Here are a couple pointers on researching non-profits:
- This may be a little self-serving. We are sorry about it, but it is true. You can work with organizations like Mite, whose job is to make sure your donations are used for the reasons they are donated. This is our purpose, and we take this stewardship very seriously. That is why 100% of every mite goes into the field to accomplish the projects we present to our Miters.
- Use the Internet for research. Most non-profits have some type of representation on the Internet. Viewing Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages for prospective non-profits can provide enlightenment on their work. Also, check out LinkedIn in case their staff uses this resource. Information on the people who run the charities of interest is also helpful.
- On the prospective non-profit's website, look for badges that denote affiliations with organizations that track the performance and financials of non-profits. These organizations may include Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, BBB, GuideStar, ECFA, etc. You can also review the Secretary of State website of the non-profit's home state to see if the charity is in good standing.
- If the non-profit provides tax returns and end-of-year statements on its website, review them. Pay particular attention to independent audit information from third-party research and accounting firms.
- Invariably, when researching smaller non-profits, there will come a time when a phone call is necessary. Few things are more enlightening than talking to people about their operating charities. When talking on the phone, ensure you cover the critical metrics of stewardship: What percent of the overall budget is spent on administration? What percent is spent on programs? How much debt does the charity have? How much does the top salaried individual make? Unwillingness to answer these questions should raise a red flag.
- In some instances, physical visits may be in order. If you find great interest in what a non-profit is doing but cannot find sufficient information to make the giving decision, visit them. We suggest getting actual confirmation of a meeting time before venturing on site. Many smaller non-profits will have variable hours of operation.
- Vision trips are an excellent way to get the in-depth scope of what a non-profit does and how they do it. Most smaller non-profits will not have officially arranged vision trips. Still, they may be open to individuals visiting an outreach project. Expect any expenses related to your trip to be on you.
Researching smaller non-profits can be a daunting task. It is not easy, but like most things, the hard work will pay off in the end. But remember, it is your mite that is in the balance. Knowing what you are giving to is a powerful step in making your generosity as impactful as possible.