How to Choose the Right Charity: A Guide for Christians

Christians are faced with a wide range of options for giving, and according to the Bible, that can be accomplished by donating your time, talents, or money.

It can be a tremendously rewarding feeling when Christians have been blessed with the the resources to generously supply the needs of others. Often, those charities that support a cause dear to our hearts or those that are community-based are the first recipients of Christian giving.

But, what about other charities or missions that peak our interest? Those in which you may not be as familiar with the leadership, or if the group is a good steward of money, and whether or not the charity is successfully addressing their stated mission. This is when it pays to have credible resources to make sure most your donated dollars are being used to help those in need – and not to support an overly bloated administrative staff.

Here is a quick guide for how people of faith can choose the right charity.

Following Your Heart

When a charity pulls at your heartstrings, it helps to have a predefined vision of the types of charities you would like to support. In addition to conducting research, you can consider a few questions to determine if the charity is in line with you and your family’s values:

  • Is it a cause that moves me deeply – touches you emotionally or addresses a hardship you may have overcome?
  • Is it a cause that is personally important to me – literacy, civil rights, famine and drought, disabled veterans, sick children, or gospel missions?
  • Consider your own preferences: is the charity is large or small, local or global, same denomination, a new charity or an established one?Clarifying your own values makes it easier to trust your instincts, as you are less likely to be swayed by pressure tactics or personal guilt. The decision on which charity to support can be a little more difficult when you are comparing apples to apples; when two charities support your values and are accomplishing the type of work you would like to be a part of.Below are two resources that donors can use to gain information about the finances, operating costs, and the accomplishments of thousands of charities. Each group publishes results gathered by different methods of research and verification for the charities you may be considering.

Charity Watch is an independent charity watchdog established over 25 years ago as the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP).

Unlike other charity rating systems, this group strays away from formulas that calculate the efficiency of a charity based on the statistics published by the charity. Instead, the group works to expose abusive nonprofits and takes an impartial, unbiased look at how your donation dollars are being used to fund the mission’s goals as published by the charity.

Conflicts of interest – especially political alignments, executive salaries, financial reporting, and lavish spending are all closely monitored as part of an in-depth evaluation of each charity. A rating system from A to F is given depending on these factors, along with the following:

  • Program Expenses– the annual percent a charity spends on programs versus overhead
  • Cost to Raise – how much it costs each charity to raise every $100 in cash donatedThe resulting grade can help donors judge their charity’s performance, not in total revenue from fundraising but in the efficiency of their fundraising efforts. These approaches are complex, but the charity rating gives donors a good view of the charity’s financial efficiency.

Charity Navigator has been around for 15 years, and offers an objective rating for over 9,000 charities, giving donors a guide for intelligent giving.

The rated charities must have an annual revenue of at least one million dollars and has been in operation for over 7 years. Once a charity is grouped within a defined ‘category‘ and ‘cause‘, it is then evaluated for accountability, transparency and financial health.

The result is a rating that will indicate how well the charity sustains its services and programs, how efficiently donor money is being used, and the charity’s level of transparency and accountability. An overall score is given for the above two categories as a star-rating. A 4-star charity outperforms most charities with the same cause. A 1-star charity fails to meet industry standards for accountability, transparency, and financial health.

As good financial stewards, it is always good practice to pray for guidance concerning – when, where, and how much of our God-given resources we are being directed to donate.

~ 1776 Christian

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