Friday, 3 July 2009

Are you ready to support a charity?

If you are thinking of becoming a Knight in shinning armour and being a supporter of a charity please take the time to ask charities questions about their programs, mission, and goals before you decide to support them.

For those of you who don't have the time or resources for this here are six questions that you as a donor should expect to get clear answers for:

1. Can your charity clearly communicate who they are and what they do?
If a charity struggles in articulating its mission and its programs, it will probably struggle in delivering those programs. Organisations that can explain who they are and what they're trying to accomplish have a singularity of purpose and a commitment to focused institutional change. If a charity can't explain who it is and what it does, and why it is needed, find one that can.

2. Can your charity define their short-term and long-term goals?
Organisations without quantifiable goals have no way to measure success. If they have no way to know if they are successful, how can you be sure they are working toward something? Demand that your charity tell you what it is trying to do. Good organisations relish this opportunity. They know what they are working toward today and tomorrow.
3. Can your charity tell you the progress it has made (or is making) toward its goal?
Once again, it's not enough to merely be concerned with a problem. Good intentions are no longer sufficient to warrant your charitable support. The marketplace is too crowded with nearly 187,000 charities registered with the Charity Commission. Ask your charity what it has done to make the issue it confronts better. What are its results? You wouldn't buy a brand of toothpaste if the manufacturer couldn't prove to you that it fought cavities successfully. Why should you support an environmental clean-up charity if it can't show you that it is cleaning up the environment?

4. Do your charity's programs make sense to you?
If you support the mission of a charity, ask yourself if its’ programs also make sense. You believe in the cause, and you hope for the end result, but is the charity working toward that result in a way that seems rational and productive to you? If the charities goal is to promote kindness toward animals, does it pursue its goal in a way that makes sense to you, or does it merely inflame the issue? Do you want your research charity doing advocacy? Do you want your outreach charity making policy, or your policy charity doing outreach? Maybe you do, maybe you don't. This doesn't mean that every organisation should be singular in focus. It also doesn't mean, however, that you have to support every organisation that has the same belief system as you. Just because you support the ends, you may not support the means. If you know you want to support the outcome the charity aims to deliver, ask yourself if its method of arriving at that outcome makes sense to you.

5. Can you trust your charity?
There has been much research on public trust of charities. Generally it has shown that the overwhelming majority of charities are not only responsible and honest, but well-managed. So we give with confidence. You should feel the same way before you give. Don't support a charity until you feel comfortable with it. To gain this trust look at unbiased sources of information. The Charity Commission or Guidestar are good starting points. Call the CEO of the charity and ask the questions you need answered before you can be assured this is a good use of your money. Ask for an annual report. Do whatever it takes to put your mind at ease. Good charities will encourage this. A happy and trusting donor is a willing and supportive donor.

6. Are you willing to make a long-term commitment to your charity?
We like to think of giving to charity as a long-term commitment, more akin to marriage than dating. Intelligent giving is motivated by altruism, knowledge, and perspective, not a knee-jerk reaction to a television commercial. You are an adult. You have a budget. You have the means to help others. You want to help. Ask yourself if your charity is the type of organisation to which you're willing to make a long-term commitment. When you do this, you agree to support them through good times and bad, and provide the funding they need to weather economic downturns. In return, they promise to continue working toward addressing the issue you both think is so vital. Look hard and find a charity you can support for many years to come. When you find that charity, give it your financial commitment, tell it you'll be there through thick and thin, and then continue to support it. Only then will long-term sustainable change take place.

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