Tips for Evaluating Effective Non-Profits on Giving Tuesday

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By Molly Norton

Giving Tuesday, which falls on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving every year, raised more than $300 million for non-profits in 2017.

No doubt many of you have started to receive an increasingly steady stream of emails alerting you to matching grant opportunities to double or even triple your impact. For some, this is a chance to strengthen your commitments to the organizations you already support. For others, you may be looking to share your philanthropic dollars with efforts that you haven’t funded before. But with 1.5 million non-profits in the United States alone, figuring out who to support, what intervention strategy is best for your cause, and where your dollars will have the most significant impact can feel overwhelming.

giving tuesday evaluating non-profitsWe believe that when you feel confident about who you are supporting and why, your charitable giving will fill you more with true joy than with ambivalence or uncertainty. This is an incredible opportunity to harness the generosity of people around the world who want to bring about meaningful change in their communities by sharing our capacity to care for and uplift one another.

Below is a list of factors you might consider when thinking about effective organizations. It might stand out that overhead, a common data point for non-profit assessment, is not on this list. While it certainly is worth understanding an organization’s operating costs, consider that some of the most pressing issues in our world today are attracting lawyers, scientists, and other highly skilled citizens to the non-profit world. If we want to hire, retain, and see results from the best and brightest, and if we want organizations to create the infrastructure and systems that will allow them to make high-impact change, then we have to give them the funds to do so.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Leadership: Who is the director of the organization? Are people impacted by the organization’s work represented on the board?

Financial Sustainability: Does the organization have a consistent fundraising record with the potential to continue raising money?

Scale and/or Depth of Programming: Is the organization serving many people and places across a large scale, or a few individuals, but with a lot of depth?

Community Partnerships: Is the organization working collaboratively with other organizations in the community?

Concept: Is the overall model of the organization—its theory of change and its methodology—clear and easy to understand?

Impact: Is the organization having an impact? How is it measured? Are there other leverage points for this issue that are worth considering?

Stakeholder Representation: Are the people most affected by the work part of the organization’s planning?

Impact of Donation: Is there a change-making donation that could benefit the organization? Can it absorb the funds effectively?

Method of Change: Is the organization creating change through policy, education, research? Does this resonate with how you believe change will happen?

Remember that these are merely suggestions to help you get started—there is no formula for effective giving. You can start with small gifts, visit non-profit programs for inspiration, and approach the entire experience as an iterative process involving constant learning. Over time, the more you do, the more you’ll learn, and the more connected you’ll feel to your giving and your impact.

Molly Norton is the philanthropic advisor at Brighton Jones.

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