Holiday giving: How to choose a charity
New tools help givers, and those in need, find answers.
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Some users are enthusiastic. "It's not just about ratio and numbers; it's whether a charity is vibrant and useful to the community," says Sean Stannard-Stockton, CEO of Tactical Philanthropy Advisors, which assists foundations and wealthy donors. He regularly consults websites like Yelp! and GreatNonprofits before making recommendations.Skip to next paragraph
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At least one established ratings group is jumping on the bandwagon. Charity Navigator, which has evaluated charities since 2001 based primarily on financial data, is planning to revamp its ratings system. Soon the service will incorporate the human perspective on a nonprofit's effectiveness by surveying its constituents and presenting those findings along with the financial performance.
"There's a new movement within nonprofits to focus on results," says Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator. "How do we know that you're not doing more harm than good?"
The change is provoking criticism from some charities, Mr. Berger concedes. They ask: " 'Are you mad? We are just so unique,' " he recalls. But he argues that such sentiments are inexcusable and that measuring results might actually help nonprofits with foundations and donors. "Being able to demonstrate how you've helped will become increasingly important," Berger says. "Many foundations are requiring that nonprofits measure their results to qualify for grants." Some nonprofits are apprehensive, Ni agrees. "They're afraid of airing their dirty laundry in public. But if people are going to say something negative, you can always take that feedback and make changes."
But how reliable are those user reviews, especially when a charity is dealing with difficult clients? For example: Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco provides job training for substance abusers, ex-convicts, and the homeless. When one Delancey Street client posted a negative review on GreatNonprofits, calling into question the group's long-term results, spokeswoman Carol Kizziah was incensed. "I personally found the reviews to be slanderous," she says. "I just don't know how they could give a voice to a drug addict."
Those are exactly the people who need to be heard, Ni counters. "We're giving a voice to the people that the charity serves. We always give nonprofits the opportunity to counter reviews."
"There's no question that donors want reliable information," says Berger of Charity Navigator. "Getting that information is certainly going to be complex and difficult, but it will happen."
In the end, these new ratings tools will prove to be a net positive for charities and those they serve, says Brian Hill, executive director of The Oral Cancer Foundation in Newport Beach, Calif. "Either you produce or you don't. It's easy to lose sight of the people you serve, but seeing people's comments really helps you stay focused and efficient."
Mr. Hill adds that being highly rated on GreatNonprofits has helped by significantly increasing his base of donors. "Money really does flow from the message boards. If it wasn't for the Internet, The Oral Cancer Foundation wouldn't be anywhere," he says.
Trusting the charity was everything to Maholic, who pondered letting her only child travel more than 1,000 miles to the Knights of Heroes program – even though she'd be in the state while he was. "I had a gut feeling that they'd be good, but hearing from others made it a lot easier to be away from Andrew," she says.