Perspective

7 ways to research the right charities for your giving

If you’re leaning into strategic generosity, it’s imperative that you take the time to discover what causes God has placed on your hearts. From there, you can seek to discern the right organizations to support that align with your giving passions and biblical values. 

To help discern which charities God is calling you to support, I sat down with Al Mueller, friend of NCF Rocky Mountains and founder of Excellence in Giving, a philanthropic advisory firm. Al emphasizes the importance of carrying out good works with both our head and heart. Being generous is one thing, but being generous with discernment honors the Lord in powerful ways.

“Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give” (Proverbs 25:14). You’re not just God’s money manager. You’re a faithful steward of the gifts he’s entrusted to you – and that requires the head and the heart. 

Here are seven ways to identify the right organizations for you:

1. Consider your life story

Your personal journey shapes your thoughts and opens our eyes to the pains of others in the world. Only God has the capacity to care about every single issue that exists, so you have to uncover the subset of problems that pull at your heart. God shares his passions for the poor, marginalized, widowed, and orphaned in his Word. In light of this and our personal experiences, you can start to identify causes and organizations that are personally meaningful and biblically aligned. 

2. Think neighborhood, nation, and globe

Jesus tells his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NIV). With that in mind, decide if you want to deploy financial resources within your community, regionally/nationally, or globally. If you long to see your community flourish, you might invest in your local church and organizations working to move the needle toward that end. If your heart draws near to causes that empower the marginalized on a global scale, your support may go to organizations with boots on the ground in foreign lands.

3. Identify your giving group

Are you looking to financially support an organization in collaboration with a group of friends or other givers? Are your children passionate about a cause that your family can rally around with their time, talents, and treasures? Talk to your giving group about what they value, who they’ve supported in the past, and what’s next for them. You want your group to have the freedom to support what is important to them. Knowing these things can help you seek out charities or movements that allow everyone involved to maximize their God-given gifts. 

4. Analyze your giving portfolio 

Think about your giving portfolio in a matrix, with one side of the matrix as cause category (e.g. clean water, human trafficking, Bible translation, evangelism, etc.) and the other geographical. How do you want to distribute your giving? You may wish to donate exclusively at the local level, giving evenly to three local nonprofits in different cause areas. Or maybe you desire to focus on one specific cause, giving 20 percent locally, 30 percent nationally, and 50 percent globally. Often givers choose so many recipients that it becomes difficult to feel connected to the impact. Consider choosing four or five causes or organizations to support, or as we like to say, as many as you can remember to pray for.  

5. Measure transparency and accountability

An organization’s website is like its storefront. You should be able to easily find a list of its leadership and board of directors. (Keep in mind those lists should be different for accountability within the organization). Find out if the board is engaged and meets regularly. They are shareholder representatives and the ones to steward giver dollars toward mission success.

Is their mission statement clear? Can you easily access financial information and impact reports? Transparency is key; if an organization can’t or won’t share details, it could be a sign of problems below the surface. A philanthropic advisory firm can provide comprehensive evaluations of nonprofit leadership, finances, strategy, and impact to identify nonprofit strengths and weaknesses. However, you may be able to do some of this work yourself with online tools.

6. Check credibility

There are several well-known websites that provide lists of nonprofits. Some take stale IRS data, reformat it, and sell it. Other sites have created rating systems based on arbitrary information. The Better Business Bureau’s Give.org is a reliable source of charitable accountability based on 20 standards addressing four themes: governance, results, finances, and truthful and transparent representations.

ECFA-accredited ministries are committed to upholding the standard of integrity and accountability to God. Check to see if the organizations you’re interested in are on these lists. And if not, learn why. 

However, together these organizations have only been able to evaluate less than one percent of the more than 1.5 million registered charities in the U.S. So, just because a charity is not on one of these lists does not mean it is not a good one. It just means you may need to do some extra homework.

Charity Navigator is another site to consider for reviewing a charity. They often, also, provide lists of charities working on specific causes.

7. Ask for results

For a more in-depth evaluation of charities you might want to support, select a few similar charities working to solve the same problems in the world. Then, do research. Speak to volunteers – they tend to have authentic insight into an organization. If they consistently give their time, they must see something good in the work. Ask leadership for detailed evaluations beyond their annual report. Review financial audits to determine if they have sound financial management. Request to see an up-to-date strategic plan with specific milestones and deadlines for growth. Understand if the charity actually needs funding or if they just have an appealing marketing campaign. The answers can help you evaluate if it’s a good fit for your impact goals. 

Generosity as worship requires discernment

The Word of God is clear that we should do good works. In doing good works, we are generous – because of what Jesus has already done for us. Generosity is the natural fruit of our love for God and our faith in him. Reordering our lives toward obedient generosity is worship. It’s one way we honor God. 

When it comes to giving generously from all we have, it’s essential we first plan well. Next, we must know we’re supporting an effective, efficient, and kingdom-oriented organization or movement. 

How will you be discerning in your generosity this year? 

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