The ABC of International Giving
Posted by Kaitlin Tufts on June 30, 2014.
When you want to make a charitable donation, it can be hard to know where to start. There are so many organizations around the world working for a variety of causes, and choosing where to give can get overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be! Follow the ABCs listed below and you’ll find your ideal charity in no time.
Begin by narrowing down where you want to give. There are benefits to both domestic and international giving, but which you choose can also impact your next steps and how you conduct your research. Focusing on a specific geographic region helps narrow the pool of charities at which you’ll be looking.
Consider the population that you want to help, and look for a charity that specifically addresses the needs of those people. It can be done through research, awareness, education, or direct service programming but there is certainly a charity out there that works for a cause about which you are passionate.
Compare similar charities to each other in terms of their programming and effectiveness. Looking at the differences between a charity that works with underprivileged young women in Ghana and one that conducts cancer research will not give you a strong idea of the strengths and weakness of each organization. However, looking at how similar charities work will help you to decide which organization will use your donation most effectively.
Make sure you know how much you are planning to give before you start. Any gift can make a difference, but how much you are planning to contribute can impact which organization you choose. For example, you may not want to give a million dollar gift to a small charity that has an average yearly income in the $50,000 – $100,000 range, as they may not have the capacity to handle such an influx of funds all at once. In the same way, a smaller gift may not go as far at a charity that regularly receives very large gifts from different donors. Know your range, and it will help you determine where your impact will be greatest.
Ensure that the charity you are giving to is effective. Look for success stories, data on measurable impacts, and the history of the organization. If it seems that they do not have evidence of successful past and current projects, dig deeper. One failed project does not mean the charity isn’t effective, as long as there is proof that they have since adjusted their method and found a better approach. If a charity is taking the same steps and running the same project continuously without evidence of positive impact, that should be a red flag.
Review the finances of the organizations to which you are considering making a donation. The financials of non-profit organizations are often made public in their annual reports, or will be provided upon request. Trustworthy charities will make an effort to be transparent.
Look for a clearly outlined mission statement, as well as short and long term goals. Most charities list these on all of their outreach materials, including their website. If their activities and their mission/goals do not match, start asking questions.
As well as the goals mentioned above, there should have a clear plan for what they are trying to accomplish. Having a mission is the easy part; accomplishing it requires a higher level of understanding of the issue and how it needs to be addressed. A charity should be informed, as well as prepared for potential roadblocks in their projects.
What impact is the organization having on its cause or community? Are there measurable results? Do the people being served have good things to say about the organization? These are all questions to consider when choosing a charity.
Consider combining forces with friends, family, or coworkers. You can choose a charity to donate to together, hold a fundraiser, request birthday gifts go to your charity of choice, help your kids have a lemonade stand, or turn your poker-night winnings into a donation. Make your philanthropy fun!
If you are unable or select not to contribute funds to an organization, it doesn’t mean you can’t still make a donation. Many organizations are able to accept in-kind gifts in lieu of cash. Shelters, food pantries, domestic violence centers, and many other charities often have a list of needed items on their websites or will be happy to provide one for you upon request.
When looking at organizations that are community focused, make sure they involve the locals. This is especially true for international giving. There are many individuals and organizations that travel to an area and decide they know what the local community needs, without actually consulting the people who live there. These projects rarely succeed. Effective development projects involve the locals in all steps, from developing an idea to carrying out a project. This helps ensure there will be a long-lasting impact because the community is invested in what is occurring.
Many companies have programs that allow employees to have their donations or volunteer hours matched up to a certain amount. When planning your philanthropy, be sure to look into this option at your place of employment. If it is available, take advantage! You will make your donation more effective with very little effort.
Do a news search for the name of the organization. This will help you to discover any negative press or controversy surrounding the charity, as well as provide you with independent verification of the organization’s successful projects.
The charities you are considering should be professional and organized in their activities. Keep in mind that many non-profits are strained in staff and resources, so they might not be able to respond immediately. However, they should be able to answer your questions and address your concerns. It also helps if you keep your philanthropic research organized, in case you decide to choose another charity in the future- then you won’t have to start from scratch!
When reviewing financials as mentioned above, look to see that the charity has low administrative and fundraising costs, with a high percentage of expenditure instead going toward the services they provide. This will help ensure that your gifts are having a bigger impact.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the charities you are considering! FAQs and contact information are usually available on the organization’s website, and most legitimate organizations are happy to provide potential donors with more information about their cause and what they have accomplished.
Once you choose a charity, consider making regular contributions. Some companies offer payroll giving. Charities may also allow scheduling a periodic deduction from your bank account. This helps you become a reliable means of support for an organization you are trying to help.
Make sure you have a philanthropic strategy that fits in with your charitable goals and your finances. This can help you feel more organized and stress-free when making donations, so that you aren’t caught scrambling at the end of the year.
Consider the tax-effectiveness of the gift you are making, particularly when it comes to large gifts. Organizations in the US often provide their EIN on their webpage as well as an explanation of how to make a tax-deductible gift, if that is an option. For international charities, you cannot receive a tax deduction when giving directly to the charity if it is not registered in the US. However, CAF America can help you give abroad in a safe and tax-effective manner- just get in touch with us, and we’re happy to assist! Making sure your gift is tax-effective allows for a more significant contribution than might otherwise fit in your budget.
Effective and legitimate charities should be upfront with you about their costs and activities. Most organizations will aim to be transparent and answer questions from their donors as clearly as possible. If you request further information from a charity about their activities or where your donation will go, and they are hesitant or secretive, it might be an indication that you should consider giving somewhere else.
If you remain unsure, consider seeking an alternative method for your philanthropic giving. Seek advice from experts in the field of philanthropy. CAF America has been making grants for over twenty years and has worked with thousands of charities around the world. We can help you give safe and effectively in the US and abroad.
When it comes to charitable giving, the world is your oyster! It is now easier than ever to make donations and have an impact on a community halfway across the globe, if that is what you want to do. Don’t limit yourself or the difference you can make.
Personal experience with a charity can help you better understand the work that is being done and how the organization operates. If you’re looking to contribute locally, consider volunteering as well as making monetary donations. You can have double the impact while also developing a relationship with the charity.
On the whole, be aware of how the organization you choose aligns with your philanthropic goals and overall plan. If you choose a charity that is effective, financially responsible, and about which you are passionate, you are more likely to have a long-term relationship and thus have a higher impact.
Your philanthropic activities shouldn’t cause stress or anxiety for you. If a charity is making charitable giving difficult, consider looking elsewhere. If you need assistance with your giving, please don’t hesitate to reach out to CAF America for advice and donor support!
When in doubt, reach out! The staff here at CAF America has years of experience in the field of international philanthropy. We can provide expedited grantmaking to 181,000+ organizations around the world, and we are eager to help you help others!
More resources on choosing a charity:
- The New York Times: “How to Choose a Charity Wisely“
- Forbes: “Choosing a Charity“
- PBS: “How to Choose a Charity that Really Delivers“
- TEDTalk: “How to Pick the Charity that’s Right for You“