United Way
of Whatcom County

Finding Trustworthy Charities to Donate To

December 4, 2020

By supporting nonprofit organizations, we get to support the causes we care about while making the world a better place. And if that isn’t a little spark of holiday magic, we don’t know what is!

This year, as COVID-19 has torn through our lives and communities, the desire to help is especially strong. You might be asking yourself how you can make the greatest impact with your charitable giving. 

Such questions aren’t always easy to answer. There are so many nonprofits doing amazing work! But in the end, it comes down to two basic things: 

  1. What you care about
  2. Who you trust

Overall, you want to make sure you are investing your donated dollars wisely. But how do you go about doing that?

Below are three steps to help you decide where and how to give. 

Finding Trustworthy Charities

1. Prioritize

What matters most to you? Take a moment to consider where your passions lie and where you want to make an impact. If a genie handed you a magic wand and said you could fix three things in the world, what would they be? Make a list of issues that resonate with you.

Once you’ve identified your causes, rank each issue in order of importance. If that magic genie were to reappear and tell you the wand only worked for one thing on your list, which one would it be? (I know. Genies don’t typically use magic wands. But just roll with me here.) Using the magic wand analogy, work your way down the list to determine which areas of focus are most important to you. 

  • If you’re having trouble determining what is important to you, you can always start with where United Way starts - with ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). 
  • Before deciding on where to give, think about your budget and resources. How much are you able to give? What amount seems realistic? 
  • If you have more time than money, volunteering can be a great way to make a difference without a significant financial commitment. 
  • If giving locally is important to you, search for nonprofits specifically working in your area. That way, you’ll know your money is staying close to home. 

2. Do your homework

Research 2 or 3 organizations working in the areas you care about. For example, there are many organizations helping with housing in Whatcom County. The Opportunity Council is the coordinated entry point for anyone looking for help with housing and runs a huge number of programs to help local individuals and families get back on their feet. Northwest Youth Services focuses on homeless youth, teens and young adults. Interfaith Coalition’s Family Promise program helps families experiencing homelessness. DVSAS and Lydia Place provide safe housing for women and children fleeing domestic violence situations. 

As you get closer to deciding how to give, check out each organization’s website. In addition to hearing about their work, you’ll often find helpful FAQ pages, impact data, and client stories. If you’re a numbers person, you’ll be happy to know that 501(c)(3) nonprofits are required to make their IRS 990 financial information public and often have their most recent audit and 990 form online. (If you’re not a numbers person, these documents might be great tools to help you fall asleep at night.)

If you’re into rating systems, there are several charity watchdog groups that score all kinds of nonprofits on a variety of factors. A solid rating on CharityNavigator, GuideStar, and/or CharityWatch is a good sign. But these sites don’t always tell the whole story. For example, some organizations have really high overhead. In most peoples’ minds, this is inherently bad. But a nonprofit that requires a high staff to client ratio, the cost of running and managing those programs is going to be significantly higher. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are less effective at their mission or inefficient with their money.  

You can also ask your friends and family where they give and why. Just be aware that there is a lot of misinformation out there. Especially on social media. If you want to learn more about any given nonprofit, follow the actual organization as opposed to trusting random emails or viral posts.

If you really want to get to know an organization, the best thing to do is get involved. Volunteer, serve as a Board member, sign up for their newsletters, or become a donor. This is how you get the inside view of the work they do. And the way they do it.

3. Make your decision. And your gift.

Now that you’ve prioritized the issues and studied the organizations addressing them, it’s time to give. For many people, the decision still won’t be easy. Having learned about so many great nonprofits, it may be hard to choose just one or two of them. A couple of thoughts to make it easier:

  • This isn’t a forever engagement. You can give to one organization now and a different one later.
  • You can also pick a few top favorites and divide your giving budget between them. 

If you want to support a maximum number of nonprofits all at once, you can always give to United Way. A single United Way of Whatcom County donation supports over 20 local nonprofits doing amazing work right here at home. Live in another county? No problem! Each United Way works locally on specific issues affecting their residents and communities- and you can find United Way organizations throughout The US. 

Why is United Way a trustworthy charity of choice?

  • All agencies that receive United Way funding are thoroughly vetted each year
  • 100% of your money stays local 
  • United Way works hard to stretch every dollar as far as it can go

If you still can’t decide where to give, you can always ask your genie friend. Who knows? Maybe this one has a magic wand AND a crystal ball!

No matter how you decide to give this year, please know that you’re making a big difference. And do it with joy in your heart.