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Ordinary people taking action for extraordinary change.

How to give with quality: five points to consider

Why We Wrote This

These days, many people looking to make a donation want to be sure it will truly make a difference. So in this piece, a philanthropy expert shares her insights.

Karen Norris/Staff

This column is part of an occasional series about how you, too, can make a difference. It is written by the head of our partner organization UniversalGiving, which helps people give and volunteer in more than 100 countries.

Giving, giving – it’s getting to be that time of year again! Did you know that the United States has been recognized as one of the most generous givers? It has the highest rate of donations as a percentage of gross domestic product, according to a 2016 paper by Charities Aid Foundation. New Zealand comes in second in that analysis, and Canada third.

But we don’t want to simply give. We want to give with quality. I hope the following points help you understand where to donate so your money truly makes a difference.

1. Research the organization. You’ve heard of a nonprofit. Now it’s time to get the facts. Your giving is only with quality if you do it thoughtfully and consider what effect you want to have.

As much as you can, get to know the nonprofit, and if possible, visit it in person. This will help you feel involved, and the nonprofit will be happy that you cared to visit.

2. Consult a vetter. What if you can’t visit? In this case, it’s of the utmost importance to obtain other evaluations. As one option, UniversalGiving offers a proprietary Quality Model that vets all our partner organizations. We review 24 stages, taking into account terrorist lists, overhead, and nondiscrimination policies.

The vetter is an independent authority ensuring the donation is secure. It provides impartiality and safety in your giving.

3. Use rating systems. In addition to vetters, there are rating systems. For instance, Charity Navigator rates how well an organization is managed. You can also check out GreatNonprofits. This is a different, useful model, relying on user reviews of their experiences with a nonprofit.

4. Think about giving internationally. Your money can go further if you donate to an overseas cause.

Check out the value of your dollar in the US versus abroad: In the US, a sandwich typically costs between $5 and $10. But in the Philippines, that amount can buy meats, fruits, vegetables, and spices for several meals, according to an experiment conducted by CNN. And in Bhutan, it will pay for a week’s worth of vegetables at a farmers market.

These comparisons show how a donation can be small and still have a big effect.

5. Help solve a long-term crisis. There are many difficult, ongoing crisis situations in the world. Two examples are Congo (former Zaire), where violence has displaced millions of people, and Venezuela, whose steep economic and humanitarian challenges have also pushed people out.

So what can you do? One option is to focus on “border giving,” which provides support to nonprofits that are on the border of countries like Venezuela or Congo. These nonprofits assist refugees with shelter, food, job training, and counseling. In this way, although it may not be possible for nonprofits to operate safely within a country, they can still help the people who are fleeing the country.

If you don’t know where to start, you can begin research with a search engine. But remember, smaller, nimble, and effective organizations may not rank high in search results because they don’t have advertising budgets. So it’s not wise to make that your only method. You can also contact UniversalGiving.

We’re happy to help you find the right organization and giving opportunity.

Thank you to all who are givers. Every day we can do good! Let’s make sure our good can have the greatest effect and reach.

Pamela Hawley is the founder and chief executive officer of UniversalGiving. She is a recipient of the Jefferson Award – the Nobel Prize of community service. She also writes the blog “Living and Giving.”

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