Giving back to charities, whether through financial contributions or volunteering, has great benefits for both the nonprofit organization and the donor.
However, not all charities are created equal in terms of credibility, transparency, and ensuring donor money is used effectively and efficiently. Before getting involved, it’s best to research the organizations, said Brian G. Sokol, chief development officer and vice president of the Menorah Park Foundation in Beachwood, and Jason Weiner, philanthropic adviser to the Cleveland Foundation at Cleveland.
Considering whether an organization truly aligns with your values before donating based on ads or mail solicitation is good practice, Weiner said. If you’ve never donated to a group before, learn about the impact of donations.
“I think an organization that prioritizes donor education and engagement, this work should make it easy to see the impact that philanthropy has on the organization and why it matters to them,” Weiner said.
Sokol said donors should seek information about the organization’s history, community contributions and results.
“I would encourage potential donors to meet with the leadership of the charity, both volunteer leaders and key people within the organization, to learn more about its history, its proven benefits to the community and providing stewardship as a core value,” Sokol said in an email interview. “This additional information allows them to see the tangible results of implementing previous philanthropic support. They might also do additional independent research online to see both current and historical information.
Weiner said donors should strive to understand whether the organization is well positioned to achieve the expected results. They should check whether there is stability among staff and management, and whether those in leadership positions are qualified to do what they say they will do. Additionally, they might consider its strategic plan and whether it aligns with what the group appears to be doing, and how it handles finances and transparency around money.
“The most important thing is being able to confirm whether the organization is a 501(c)(3) organization in good standing with the IRS,” Weiner said. “So you can definitely ask an organization for their tax ID and it can be on the ‘donate now’ page of their (website).”
Weiner and Sokol both advised seeking updates — through newsletters, emails, social media and other communication channels — from any organization they donate to, acknowledging funds and impact.
Several tools are also available to confirm the legitimacy of a non-profit organization. Weiner noted that donors should be able to access an organization’s Form 990, an IRS-required form where organizations must submit their business, governance and financial information. Candid.org provides a Form 990 search tool. It also recommended the Charity Navigator website, a nonprofit assessment site that provides information on finances, governance, and ethics.
When making the donation, a donor must clearly indicate whether the contribution is for general operational use or a specific purpose, and their wishes must be honored by the organization, Weiner said.
For volunteering, Weiner said people should consider the needs of the organization and connect with a volunteer organizer. For a leadership role, such as a board or committee member, they want to make sure expectations and commitments are clear. They can also determine if their skills match the needs, if the role requires a financial commitment, if the group is well organized and ask about the experiences of other members.
The organization should have a structured method for thanking hard-working volunteers, Weiner said.
“I know a lot of us don’t do this work for recognition, but I think how an organization says thank you says a lot about them,” he said. “Just like when someone makes a financial contribution, do volunteers feel that the time and talent they give also makes a difference? »
Sokol said a nonprofit should provide opportunities for volunteers that align with the core mission.
“Conversations with organizational staff and leadership can provide insight into other opportunities for engagement, including hands-on volunteering, fundraising assistance, and possibly board involvement as well. administration,” Sokol said. “Actions must align with the organization’s vision, mission, and core values.”
Giving back to an influential and credible organization can be life changing for the donor and those who benefit from it. At the Menorah Park Foundation, Sokol said he appreciates being part of an organization that has impacted his own family.
“Participating in any way with a nonprofit brings great meaning to our lives,” Sokol said. “At every moment we have the opportunity to make a difference – to practice tikkun olam in a way that brings meaning to us as individuals. I am so proud to be part of an organization where my two great -mothers enjoyed their last years.
Weiner said those who work with the Cleveland Foundation benefit from constant expertise on local and national issues and organizations.
“Donors who give through a donor-advised fund to the foundation have the opportunity to work with a philanthropic advisor to better understand philanthropy and feel good about the impact they can have, knowing they’ve taken an informed decision that reflects what is most important about them as a donor,” Weiner said.
Staff reporter Meghan Walsh contributed to this story.