Now that you have a sense of where you want to give and why, let’s start to identify the recipients of your gifts.
First, it is important to research an organization before you donate or volunteer in order to ensure that your money or time is used responsibly. At the end of this section, you’ll find websites that can help you answer the following questions you should pose:
How does the organization address the issue you care about?
Example: a local food bank addresses the issue of hunger by providing meals. Another nonprofit might also address hunger by providing assistance to farmers to reliably produce food.
How does the organization measure and share their impact? How do they measure success?
Example: a local food bank might measure success in terms of the number of meals served, rather than the number of people who are well-nourished or no longer hungry. In this scenario, the local food bank’s success metric does not share the full picture of how healthy the meals are, how many people are actually receiving the meals- can we assume just one meal serves one person?
Does the organization make its metrics publicly available?
Does the organization partner with other credible nonprofits and institutions?
Is the executive team and board experienced in this space?
Many donors evaluate nonprofits like stocks, weighing them like potential investments. They ask questions about sustainability, leadership structure, value proposition, and ensure that they are aligned with other investors. Here are some factors you can consider when researching and evaluating specific nonprofit financials:
Do you want to support a long-standing and proven organization or a newer, less-established organization that may be trying something new?
Check out this Nonprofit Quarterly article which gives an overview of “The Role of Risk at the Heart of Philanthropy.”
How much of your dollar goes to the intended recipient and how much goes to administrative cost? Is it important?
Check out Dan Pallotta’s TED lecture on how, sometimes, high overhead is a sign of an effective giving organization.
Who donates to this organization? Does this organization have a trustworthy, sustainable revenue stream?
For more information on revenue, read this article on the Charles Koch Foundation’s $1 million donation to Catholic University, and whether it would affect the policies of the institution.
Using the abovementioned questions on strategy, organization, leadership, and finances, here are some resources that can help you identify and research organizations:
- Bright Funds
- The Center for High Impact Philanthropy
- Charity Navigator
- Universal Giving
- S&I 100
- Private or Community Foundation’s list of grantees
How Bright Funds can help
Bright Funds has its own platform where you can research organizations by cause, as well as press on their recent activities. Our platform is effective at helping you identify a cause, and then we make the process easy by presenting you with many giving options.
Through Bright Funds, donors can choose their cause and give to a “fund” comprised of multiple nonprofits that address a specific cause area. Each of these Flagship Funds adopts a global outlook to the designated issue and promotes a holistic solution to tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges by supporting carefully vetted nonprofits. Examples include:
The Education Fund is a collection of innovative nonprofits working in the United States and around the world to help improve the quality of education.
Nonprofits in this fund are working to ensure everyone has access not only to basic needs like food and shelter but also to opportunities for self-sufficiency and prosperity.
The Environment Fund is designed to bring capital to areas that matter most, from protecting our forests and wildlife, to educating the public and policymakers on critical issues affecting our world.
The Water Fund consists of nonprofits working on solutions for the water crisis that go beyond drilling a well. They provide clean water, sanitation, and hygiene solutions through methods designed for sustainability.
The Health Fund consists of organizations working both in the United States and in developing countries to address some of the greatest health challenges of our world today. Whether it is finding a cure for a deadly disease, providing vaccines and critical medications to those that need them most, or educating the public on good nutrition, the nonprofits in this fund are working to ensure that everyone achieves good health.
The Human Rights Fund is a collection of organizations working to ensure every person is guaranteed the rights inherent to all.
Guidestar lets you comprehensively research specific nonprofits’ financials, including their tax returns and financial health visualizations that Guidestar creates on its own. You can also find each nonprofits’ mission statement and impact report through Guidestar.
Philanthropedia allows you to choose one of many causes (national causes like LGBT equality and local causes such as homelessness) for which they have analyzed nonprofits and given the best performers awards. Here you can find stories about the nonprofit as well as expert reviews and information on the nonprofit’s leadership.
GiveWell provides a small, concise list of the charities that you can give to using a strict adherence to Effective Altruism: evaluating high impact in lives saved and quality-of-life improved. Their top charities serve the global poor, focus on evidence-backed interventions, and are thoroughly vetted and transparent. They also publish their own research mistakes, so you know how both research and charity money has been mismanaged.
The Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania focuses on the idea of strategic, or “high impact” philanthropy. The center provides a great toolkit and suggestions of important causes, both global and local, which can be significantly affected by your philanthropic dollar.
Charity Navigator is an independent charity evaluator that lets you browse charities by categories, and informs you of news in the philanthropy world, including new and notable organizations.
Universal Giving offers interactive ways to give gifts, fund projects, raise money for causes, and volunteer internationally, in addition to independent evaluations of charities. If you’re looking for new ideas in fundraising and volunteering, this is a great resource.
S&I 100 tracks high-impact nonprofits just as the S&P 500 tracks large companies. The S&I 100 team has screened each of the nonprofits included in the list for evidence of impact, as well as potential to scale.
Large Private or Community Foundations can vary in terms of how they evaluate their nonprofit grantees, but many have some of the best knowledge of specific communities or issue areas around. At the very least, these foundations have teams of program officers who conduct due diligences on their nonprofit grantees, which provides a baseline indication of the nonprofit’s quality.
Many foundations have a list of their grantees by program area and are easily accessible on their website.
Community Foundations exist to serve a defined geographic area (major cities or regions), and a result, develop a deep knowledge of local issues and appropriate solutions. To find a community foundation near you, we suggest checking out a comprehensive listing of community foundations put together by Council on Foundations.
Private Foundations are another excellent source of information, and usually address specific issue areas rather than specific geographic areas. The outstanding private foundations bring on exceptionally knowledgeable people to help better understand the issues and develop thoughtful grant making strategies to best-in-class nonprofits.
Some of the most notable U.S.-based foundations cover a range of national and global issues:
- Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
- Ford Foundation
- Rockefeller Foundation
- Knight Foundation
- The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
- The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
- Skoll Foundation
- Case Foundation
Now that you’ve taken a holistic view of how to think about philanthropy, the issues you want to address, and the kind of impact you want to have, we recommend writing down 1-3 nonprofits that you would be interested in supporting.