By Tom Uhler
Special to Santiva Chronicle
As the holiday season approaches, your mailbox and email inbox are likely filling up with requests from charities. There is no shortage of nonprofit organizations throughout Southwest Florida. While the abundance of charitable options may seem overwhelming, there are steps you can take to ensure your year-end giving has meaningful and lasting impact. Here are 5 steps to streamline your charity evaluation process:
1. Determine your philanthropic priorities. What causes are important to you? What impact do you want to make? Get specific. Some donors give to local charities to support nearby needs. Some donors want to fund national or international programs. Some donors choose to fund a start-up or established charity. Decide your priorities, then list charities that provide services relevant to these. But be careful to choose reliable charities.
2. Consult watchdog resources. Free charity evaluation websites such as BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator or GuideStar can aid your research. These sites review, analyze and score charities based on specific criteria such as programmatic results, oversight and governance, compensation, and donor privacy.
3. Confirm tax-exempt status. Newer charities may not yet be evaluated, and charities with small budgets typically aren’t included in those databases. In that case, you’ll want to do your own research. Confirm that the charity is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) public charity. To verify, ask for a copy of the charity’s nonprofit determination letter from the IRS. If the organization is faith- based, ask to see its listing in the official denomination directory.
4. Examine finances. One document to look for is the charity’s IRS Form 990 or 990EZ, which charities with revenues of over $50,000 are required to file, allowing the IRS and the general public to evaluate a nonprofit’s operations. Notably, religious organizations are exempt. Form 990 information reveals the charity’s missions and programs and provides data on its revenues and expenditures and direct, indirect, and government support. A single year’s Form 990 is a snapshot. Since organizations typically change over time, it can be good to review multiple years of data, compiled by databases like Guidestar.
5. Donate. Then follow up. Once you’ve made your donation, follow up in 6 months and ask how they’re using your money. If you’re not satisfied, you can make a note to adjust giving plans for the future. If you are satisfied, consider making a recurring commitment. It’s the long-term investment of committed donors that helps charities the most in achieving their mission year- after-year.
Incorporating your philanthropic goals into your financial planning can be a complex endeavor. Don’t hesitate to engage experienced professionals for guidance and assistance in aligning your charitable giving with your financial objectives.