A number of organizations look at the non-profit world to see who’s doing a good job of minding your money and spending it on relief efforts rather than executive salaries or fund raising. See the web references below for indexes that will summarize which large charities are doing the most with your money.
A nifty guide published in the Christian Science Monitor shows that the nation’s largest charity, the YMCA, spends 87 percent of its expenses on programming. Charitywatch give it a grade of A. The YWCA, however, spends just 36 percent of its money on programming, and Charitywatch hands it a D-F grade.
Sometimes a little investigating will help guide your decision. Let’s look at Goodwill Industries. Nationally, it’s one of the largest and most respected and gets high marks for spending most of its money on programs and not so much on its executive salary. But what about local Goodwills? Well, the Omaha World Herald just ran a series about the $900,000 salary and bonus paid to the CEO of Goodwill of Omaha (he also got a country club membership). More than a dozen Goodwill of Omaha executives – including the CEO’s daughter – earned more than $100,000 yearly. (The CEO has since resigned and a management shakeup is underway).
The World Herald ferreted out much of its salary information from Form 990s. These are tax documents that most tax-exempt organizations must file every year with the IRS. They’re open for public inspection and you likely can look up a charity of your choosing from a database kept by Propublica.org.
Two smart ways to give money are through your local United Way or community foundation. Both of these organizations should be expected to vett the charitable groups that they are supporting.
Some of these community foundations tap into state or local income tax credit programs, so they can be especially appealing as a way to do good and help lower your tax bite beyond the regular deduction available for charitable donations.
I prefer to give locally, and usually to support something I enjoy. I attend the local symphony, for instance, so I give them some money every year. I ride a bicycle a lot, and we have a good trail system where I live, so I support local biking groups.
Some things have to be done on a bigger scale, however. If you want to help save elephants or gorillas, you have to go global. If you want to help provide medical care in war zones, then Doctors Without Borders deserves your check.
And of course, there’s always your local church. If you’re attending there on a regular basis you already will know how your money is going to be spent.
Here are web addresses for further study on charitable giving: