Tips for Evaluating a Charity

Summary reports are available on our website for each registered charity and public safety group. These reports can be obtained by clicking on the organization's name.

While a review of the information in each report can be a starting point for evaluating a charity, we encourage you to do further research.  You may want to look at the information returns:  IRS Forms 990, 990-EZ, or 990-PF filed by most publicly supported charities and all foundations. These reports contain more detailed information on finances, governance and management policies, and compensation of the officers and directors, along with the highest paid employees and contractors.  You can find these IRS returns at websites such the National Center for Charitable Statistics and GuideStar. You can also request these returns from our office. 

You may also find it helpful to consult our annual Professional Fundraising Charitable Solicitation Reports. The reports compile campaign information for charities that have engaged a professional fundraiser in a given year.

You may also wish to consider a charity rating organization such as the Better Business Bureau or Charity Navigator, among others.  These organizations have websites which compare, evaluate, or rate larger charities according to their own selected criteria.  If you need additional information, our office can make available the audited or reviewed financial statements that larger organizations are required to file.

Experts agree that a donor should not base a decision on whether to give to a charity solely on financial ratios.  The following points should also be considered:  A single year's financial data may not present a complete picture of a charity.  For example, there may be large expenditures in a particular year that would enhance the efficiency of the organization in the long run, one-time fundraising costs to attract new donors, or start-up costs for newer organizations.  Further, you should be careful about comparing financial ratios of charities dissimilar in purpose or size.

Financial data, while helpful, may not be a true measure of a charity's achievements and effectiveness.  A description of the charity's accomplishments, future plans, and other useful information may be provided on its website.

In addition, directly contacting the organization with questions can be a valuable research tool.  Since transparency is one of the attributes of a responsible charity, organizations should be willing to answer questions about both their charitable program and finances.

Finally, most organizations need volunteers as well as your donation.  This can also be a way to learn about a charity's effectiveness while providing a needed service.