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Evaluating Your Charitable Gift

Be Proactive in Your Follow-Up

Evaluating the impact of your gift may take some legwork, but it's well worth your time. In fact, you may find the experience to be rewarding. Following are some tactics you may want to consider:

  • Get active with the group. Seek opportunities to volunteer with a local chapter, if you have the time. Not only will you get an insider's view of what the organization is doing, but it can be a valuable personal experience.
  • Be an investigative reader. Take time to read press releases and articles focusing on programs or activities. Get your hands on a copy of the organization's annual report. You can even request financial documents.
  • Keep an eye on solicitations for further donations. If you start to receive a substantial amount of flashy direct-mail materials, there's a good chance the organization is paying a third-party vendor a lot of money to run their campaigns, which can be an expensive diversion of funds that might better be spent helping others.
  • Be wary of expensive fundraising tactics, such as sales of merchandise supplied through fundraising businesses. These not only are frequently costly ventures, but the margin of profit that goes to the charity can also be slim.
  • When all else fails, pick up the phone. Don't hesitate to contact a charity directly with questions or concerns. The Better Business Bureau estimates that more than 80% of money U.S. charities receive is donated by individuals. Even if your donation is not in the thousands of dollars, a reputable organization should take the time to respond to your inquiries because every donation is important to its mission.
  • Check with charity watchdog groups, such as the American Institute of Philanthropy, Charity Navigator, or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. These groups conduct ongoing investigations into charity activities, including a close examination of financial records, and assign ratings to each organization.

Next Steps

If you determine that a charity you donated money to has made poor use of financial contributions, do you have any recourse? It’s not likely you will get your money back. "Charities are rarely under any legal obligation to return your donation to you in the event you later become dissatisfied with your giving decision," says Styron.

You can, however, use your voice as a consumer to speak up about your experience and observations. You can contact charity watchdog groups, such as the American Institute of Philanthropy or Charity Navigator, or file a complaint through your local Better Business Bureau. You can also communicate to friends, neighbors, and other associates who might be looking to donate. And you can direct your own future donations toward a different organization.

You can take similar actions if your experience is positive, too. It can be gratifying to continue to support an organization that has already wowed you with its programs and activity in the community. Says Styron, "Past performance is often a good indicator of future performance."

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Reviewed on March 24, 2011

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